Transcript of Episode #106 of the OEITH podcast, Tales of the Goetia, presenting stories of encounters with spirits from this magical system, and reflections on the nature of the demonic.
For this episode, I invite you to get yourself comfortable and draw up around our imaginary campfire for some stories of experiences of the Goetia, which is a magical system that I think quite commonly causes magicians to huddle together and share tales of wonders and disasters, and sometimes just really, really strange, weird stuff.
If you’re new to the Goetia, I’m not really going to go into detail about what it is and how to do it. There are plenty of other places where you’ll be able to find that. But, instead, I’m just going to talk about some experiences that I’ve had, tell some stories, and share some ideas on what seems to me to be the nature of the spirits of the Goetia.
Before I started practising magick I was interested in writing fiction, and it was in that context that I first came across the Goetia, or that text known as The Lesser Key of Solomon the King. I was on a writer’s forum, and somebody was writing a story about demons, and they wanted a source that they could use to draw on for a story about someone summoning a demon, and someone got back to them and pointed them to The Lesser Key of Solomon the King, and I checked it out online and was immediately fascinated by it.
What struck me about it most was the catalogue of demons and the quaint language that these were described in, and the really bizarre range of things, qualities, powers that these demons seem to offer to the person who called upon them to perform certain tasks. Such as the description of the ninth spirit, Paimon: “He appeareth in the form of a man sitting upon a dromedary with a crown, most glorious, upon his head. This spirit can teach all arts and sciences and other secret things. He can discover unto thee what the earth is and what holdeth it up in the waters, and what the mind is and where it is, and any other thing thou mayest desire to know.”
I mean, it’s irresistible, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to have a conversation with an entity like that? But reading the text there was, of course, the background knowledge that these spirits are demons – they’re evil. And what was clear from the instructions given for summoning them was that they’re troublesome; they will do you over, if you give them the opportunity to do this.
According to the instructions given, this is a kind of magick constantly fraught with danger. The materials that we’re in contact with in this system, the spirits, are hazardous materials, and the paraphernalia of the ritual: the circle, the triangle with the names of power, the Solomonic talisman you’re supposed to wear, the rhetoric of enforcement and constraint that’s being employed in the evocations you’re recommended to use – as it’s presented to us in the text, this seems to be a system of magick where, to realize your aim, you’ve got to come into contact with dangerous substances. And the structure of the ritual itself seems focused on enabling you to do that in a safe way.
These entities are presented as like ferocious animals that will turn on you if you give them the chance; that’s their nature. At this time in my life, I was working my first proper job, and getting on with life in general, but something was nagging at me, at the back of my mind, which was certain experiences I’d had as a teenager when a few of us had started messing around with the Ouija board. Some strange things happened around that time, which I’d never found a material explanation for, and it had left me with a nagging sense that there was something going on apart from the everyday reality that I could see around me, and so I started to wonder whether magick could be a means of intentionally taking myself into that other world that the Ouija board had opened up when I was a teenager, but which I drifted away from in pursuing an everyday, normal life.
Among my collection of notebooks, there’s a small, skinny notebook from October 2004. The notebook opens with an entry for Halloween, and it describes my first ever intentional magical working, which was a scrying session with a black mirror that I’d made. My first experience of the Goetia came in the February of the following year, 2005.
Memory plays strange tricks on us. I realized that my memory of the circumstances around my first goetic ritual weren’t quite what I thought they were when I went back to my actual notebooks, which reminded me how important it is as a magician, when you’re practising magick, to always write stuff down. Always, always keep as detailed a record as you can of your experiences. You won’t regret it. Your notes will be like gold dust when you later come back to look at them and see where you’ve travelled from.
I’ll start with the story that I thought was true, the story I’d told myself, which was that my intention with that first Goetic working was to attract like-minded people to myself. I was just beginning magick. I was all on my own. None of my friends were into this stuff, and the internet wasn’t quite in the same state as it is today. There was no social media back then. So, what was I going to do? Well, of course, the answer was clear: I was going to summon a demon. I was going to summon a demon and ask it to bring like-minded people to me, so that I would have people I could respect and look up to and learn from and practise with. What could possibly go wrong?
So, I did the working, and the experiences I had during that working I’ll talk about in a bit, but the name of the Goetic spirit that I summoned I’m not going to mention, and my reasons for not mentioning it I’ll also explain later. But first of all, the results of the working, as I remembered them.
So, having done the working and summoned the spirit and sent it off to find for me like-minded people I could look up to and learn from, a few days later I was at work. I was working as a programmer, and I was on a panel, an interview panel, because we were recruiting a new programmer to our team, and there were various candidates, and one of them seemed okay, seemed a nice guy, quite young, unusual in that he was Canadian and had a British wife, and they decided to settle in the UK. And he seemed to have all the right skills, so myself and the others on the panel, we decided we were going to hire him. And I think he’d been on the team a week or two, and we were all sat fairly close to each other in the office, working, and I needed – I can’t remember what it was – some version of some software at that time, something fairly commonly available – like Adobe Reader, or something like that, and our new team member mentioned that he got a copy on a CD that he had in his bag, and he lent me the CD and I stuck it in my drive, and I installed the software.
But I noticed that on his CD there were some folders, apart from the one in which the software had been. Folders that seem to have books in them: eBooks, pdfs of books – and what do I discover? Lo and behold! Loads of stuff by Crowley. Loads of weird-looking texts that I’d never heard of. So, I asked him about this, and we got into conversation, and he’d been practicing magick for a good few years. And he was the person who first lent me a copy of Peter Carroll’s Liber Null and Psychonaut, and who told me about the existence of the IOT, and who introduced me to chaos magick.
For the purposes of our story today I shall refer to him as “Jean-Paul”. As I would later find out, Jean-Paul was a very experienced and seasoned practitioner of the Goetia, but I’m going to backtrack for a moment, go back to the ritual that I’d performed, what I did and what happened.
The big dilemma facing me at that time, especially as a beginner to magick, was I had this text, this grimoire, and there were all these instructions – so how was I going to put this into practice? Which bits of this ritual were essential, and which bits could I skip out or adapt because, you know, I lived in a one-bedroom flat, and it wasn’t going to be possible to go chalking words of power and circles all over the floor. But luckily, I found an article on-line by somebody who took a very practical approach to things, and that gave me the confidence to decide that it was possible to strip it down to its bare essential elements.
So, I knew that I was going to need a circle in which I could stand and protect myself from the spirit, and I knew that I would need a triangle in which to summon the spirit, and some sort of medium for it to manifest. So, I put some incense in there and I put a black mirror in there, so that I could scry into the mirror from a distance, and maybe receive a communication from the spirit by that means, if that turned out to be how it was going to manifest. And inside the circle I decided I would have a pentagram around my neck with the sigil of the demon on it, because it seemed to me that you needed to specify what spirit it was that you were calling in some way or another. And also, in a local magick shop, I’d come across a talisman of the Hexagram of Solomon, which is also specified in the text as a protective measure, so I had that looped over my belt throughout the working. And I’ve got the sense from the text that you’re not supposed to be on your own when you do a Goetic evocation; you need some greater authority on your side, and it’s by that authority that you do all the bossing about of the spirits. But I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing this in the name of the Judeo-Christian God, simply because that wasn’t a tradition I felt at home with at the time.
So instead, I called upon the goddess Athena. That first magical working, that scrying that I mentioned: the result of that had been a vision of a rather serious-looking woman who walked towards me and seemed to take an interest in what I was doing, and through subsequent workings I later ascertained that this was a manifestation of the goddess Athena, who has remained my go-to goddess ever since. So, it was under the patronage of Athena that I had resolved to do my demon bossing. And I had the traditional names of power around the triangle as well, because it seemed like that was a good idea. But I really went to town on the whole thing. I cleaned the flat from top to bottom. Moved all the furniture around so I had space, and pretty much throughout the whole day I was burning incense in the flat, and what I decided might work well was a combination of wormwood and mugwort. And I was burning this stuff pretty much all day in the flat, constantly, to get it really imbued into the atmosphere. I really recommend it, if you get the chance to use it. It produced a really dark, heavy, suggestive kind of atmosphere in the flat and the two of them, maybe, but the mugwort in particular may have been a little bit psychoactive.
Mugwort tea is sometimes good for inducing really exceptionally vivid dreams although, in my experience you have to drink a hell of a lot of it. So, I’ve got the incense and I’ve got the candles burning everywhere, and the flat was cleaned, and I’d laid out the triangle in black masking tape on the carpet, and I carefully spent a lot of time doing the circle in black masking tape as well. And, as I’d planned, by this time darkness was falling. The sun was going down and I’d very much managed to create for myself a sense that something dramatic was about to happen.
Looking back over the notes I made, I see that the evocation took a long time and I had to do a lot of exhorting and bossing the spirit about before I got a manifestation. And it came in a form that took me completely by surprise. I’d been expecting something, you know, just like a shift in the atmosphere or a change in temperature, or a sense of presence. You know, something like that, which is often the form a manifestation takes when you do an evocation. But what I got instead was a moaning, howling sound, physically heard coming through the wall at a particular spot. A sort of groaning, shouting, bellowing, which maybe shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did on one level, because, you know, as you may be aware the word “goetia” literally means “howling”.
I remember thinking to myself: “Did I really hear that? Did that really happen?” So, I asked the spirit to confirm its presence and, sure enough, the sound came again. And I asked it some questions, and the sounds came again in all the right places and seemed to sort of modulate and change a bit in a way that seemed to be giving responses to what I was asking.
This is from the notes that I made in my diary shortly afterwards: “I made a point of not threatening or cajoling the spirit, but I did come close. I did lose patience, and I think that helped. I don’t think he wanted me sitting there without getting wound up. It didn’t feel the way things feel with Athena. There wasn’t the intimacy or the sense of presence. Until he moaned there wasn’t a sense of presence with the spirit. It felt like it had to be a material manifestation or nothing. The form it took summed up how the experience felt: a muffled voice in another room, not words, but moans, grunts, and growls, very faintly heard.”
So, the whole experience was very much a sense of a material manifestation, and my whole experience with Goetia has been that this is what tends to happen when you compare it with other types of magick. The experience and the results tend to take a very physical, material form, but, to come back to that wailing, moaning voice that I heard, every spirit has to have a means of manifestation, and the building directly next door to my flat was a residential home for children with learning disabilities – children and young adults – and on occasion some of these kids were audible, so what I heard very probably didn’t emerge out of thin air but, as I mentioned, I had incense smoke there as well, and the black mirror, yet it was through those sounds that the experience of the spirit manifested rather than the mirror or the smoke, and that’s maybe not completely down to chance. But could it possibly have something to do with the form the ritual takes itself: the configuration of it, the kind of relationship suggested between the magician and the spirit, and the expectations that the whole combination sets up in us as we conduct the operation?
So, there you go. That was my first Goetic working. I went into it with the intention of attracting like-minded people to myself, and the ritual was really dramatic in terms of the experience that it created, and the results were monumentally successful when Jean-Paul came into my life within a few days.
Well, that’s what I remembered having happened until, like I said, I came back to my actual notebooks earlier this week. Because what I discovered, to my surprise, was that I’d already met Jean-Paul before I did the working. I’d already known him for a while and I imagine that he was one of the reasons why I turned to Goetia in the first place, because he used to talk about it a lot, his own experiences. In fact, the intention behind the working had been to attract more people.
Now, I’m not sure why I thought it was necessary to resort to a Goetic invocation to bring that about. Certainly, I wouldn’t do that now for something so mundane, and looking back on my notes I see that the results of the working were really very far from successful. I started to get the sense that I was being played around with. Being manipulated or goaded in some way. So, I’d performed the ritual to make contacts but what started to manifest shortly after that was actually the opposite going on. I’d noticed existing relationships becoming strained. People I was trying to connect with online were ignoring me. People I had connected with turned out to be not very nice.
And I noticed something else odd that was happening too, which was magical intentions that I’d ruled out or had only thought about, without doing a ritual, were actually being realized. So, there was a guy at work who was seriously getting on my nerves at the time, and it crossed my mind to include something in the Goetic ritual that would strike back at him in some way. But I decided against that because it was unethical and vindictive. Yet, after the working, things happened to this guy. He had a serious run of bad luck that caused him quite a bit of suffering. And a couple of people who’d come round to my flat shortly after the working, including my girlfriend, had both fallen ill afterwards. And for a couple of days there had been a weird atmosphere that felt like it was lingering in the flat, probably mostly due to the effects of the incense smoke. The smell of it lingered for quite a while.
What it was starting to feel like after that first working was as if I was being drawn into something. Things that I hadn’t asked for I’d got. Things that I had asked for I hadn’t got, and, in fact, the opposite had been manifesting, creating problems. It was feeling as if some sort of trap was being set for me, and I reached the point where it started to feel that it needed to be sorted out, so, somewhat nervously, I decided to summon the spirit again and have it out with it, and, if necessary, like the texts suggested, threaten it with punishment if it didn’t fulfil the instructions that I’d given it. And, I’ve got to say, what happened in that second evocation was probably one of the most terrifying magical experiences I’ve ever had.
So, I set up everything in my flat same as I’d done before. Gave it a good clean. Incense and again the circle and the triangle in black masking tape. And I had to pop out for something. When I got back the masking tape had kind of crinkled up and all sort of twisted, somehow, and it looked as if it had been ripped up. It looked really freaky. But anyway, I laid it down again with fresh tape and got ready to start the ritual, and then a sea mist blew in, as sometimes happens in Brighton, but it made the light all sort of strange and fuzzy, and made the day really quiet and ominous, which did nothing to calm my nerves about what might happen.
The whole thing felt like it was going wrong from the start. There was no response to the evocations at all. It felt like the spirit wasn’t responding. Whether that was because I was doing something wrong, or because it simply didn’t want to, I couldn’t tell. I had some objects with me inside the circle: I’d got the text of the ritual that I was using to read the evocations, and I had a notebook and a pen, and a few other bits and bobs. And while I was in mid-flow, with this sense that I was getting nowhere and just talking to empty air, suddenly the pen on the carpet in front of me – just lying on the carpet – suddenly moved – kind of jumped all by itself.
So, this is an object inside the circle suddenly moving all by itself, inside the circle, where the demon is absolutely not supposed to be. And I was wearing a pentacle around my neck, which is part of the ritual: you wear a pentacle with the seal of the demon on the reverse side. So, at the same time as the pen moved inside the circle, I felt a kind of energy or sensation rush from the base of my spine up my back and go really, really quickly and suddenly into the pentacle around my neck. The only way I can describe it was it felt like the pentacle was alive, like it had suddenly come to life around my neck. And it was intensely enervated. It was like it was suddenly very, very hot or very, very cold – whatever it was, I couldn’t tell, you know. It just had this huge sense of energy about it, and instinctively I gasped and ripped this this thing off my neck. I just needed to get it away from me, which I did, and my heart was pounding, and I was really shocked and frightened by what I just experienced.
And that was it. After that, nothing. Absolutely nothing. No matter how many times I asked the spirit to give me a sign, nothing. No communication. But the most terrifying thing, of course, was what had just happened had happened inside the circle. So, it had felt as if the spirit had come into the pendant around my neck, but I was inside the circle. That’s absolutely not what’s supposed to happen. And, you know, what conclusion could I draw from that? Well, I was left feeling as if the spirit had basically sent me a message saying: “You’re nothing to me. I can get you whenever I want. I’m not doing what you’ve asked me to. You’re not worth listening to.”
So, anyway, as you might imagine, slightly shaken (to say the least) by all of this I felt I had no alternative but to go for the nuclear option, which, in the text of The Lesser Key of Solomon, if the spirit absolutely refuses to do the magician’s bidding, then what you do as a final resort is to burn the spirit’s seal, and in that way the deal is off and that spirit is obliterated from your universe as a magician. And that’s the reason why, to this day, I do not mention the name of that spirit.
But I will mention the names of the spirits involved in the other two stories that I’ve got to tell. The first of these involves the twenty-sixth spirit, whose name is Bune. “He is a strong, great, and mighty duke,” it says in the text. “He appeareth in the form of a dragon with three heads. One like a dog, one like a griffin, and one like a man.”
Now, you might have thought I would have learnt my lesson with what happened with the previous spirit, but I think there were probably two things going on. The first of them was that I was spending more and more time with Jean-Paul who worked with the Goetic spirits a lot and had plenty of hair-raising and incredible tales to tell. And also, I’d realized there’s something very distinctive about Goetic magic. It has its own unique vibe, and it did seem to produce results and experiences on a very material, physical level, which other forms of magick didn’t seem to do. And at the time there was something fascinating about that. It had a certain allure which had quite a bit in common, maybe, with my teenage Ouija board experiences.
So, by this time there was a little group of us and, just to say, that this little grouping had nothing to do with the results of the working with the previous spirit because it was quite some time afterwards – about a year later. And we decided to set up a little, regular Goetia group. As it happened, this never got off the ground. We only had one meeting, and in that single meeting we did a few preliminaries. We evoked Bune just basically to say “hi” as a prelude to further workings. And, once again, looking back on things, I’m not sure how great an idea that was; whether it’s really a good approach to evoke a spirit just to say “hi” to it, especially when the text makes it very clear that these are the sorts of entities that will do us harm if they get the chance. You probably don’t want to be summoning something like that just to say “hi”, but that’s what we did and, as it turned out, it was a fairly nondescript kind of working.
Later on, in the evening we went back to the house of a couple of the participants, a couple to whom I shall give the names “Mike” and “Julie”. So, I’m there, and Jean-Paul is there, and also there is someone who you might be able to guess, but I’m not going to name explicitly. And we’re at Mike and Julie’s, and we don’t know each other very well. We’re getting to know each other. We’re drinking some wine and talking about magick and stuff, and it starts to become apparent that Julie is quite a forthright character, let’s say. She’s quite upfront in her demeanour. When you talk with her, she likes to let you know who’s boss, but we’re in her home and she’s offering us her hospitality, so fair enough. However, Julie’s character and some of the things she’s coming out with in the course of our conversation are not going down well with Jean-Paul, and the more Julie sees that she’s provoking a reaction in Jean-Paul, the more she lays it on.
It gets to about midnight, and quite a bit of wine has been taken by this point, and Julie finally pushes Jean-Paul’s buttons one button too much, and he’s clearly pissed off and decides to leave. Myself and my magical colleague however, we’re having quite a good time, so we hang around until about two in the morning, but at about one o’clock something quite upsetting happened.
There’s a knock at the door, which in itself is quite odd at 1am in the morning. And Julie gets up to answer the door, see who it is, and we hear some talking, and we hear some sort of commotion, and finally Julie comes back in, in a really distressed state, carrying a dead cat.
It was a big, lovely, cuddly ginger tom, and oddly we’d all noticed this cat in the street outside when we had arrived at their house. Now, Julie had cats but luckily this cat wasn’t one of hers. But what had happened was some neighbours, I think, or perhaps a passing couple had spotted this dead cat in the road outside, and it had only just been killed. And it looked a bit like one of Julie’s cats, so they brought it round because they thought it might be hers. And, as I said, luckily it wasn’t, but of course she was really, really upset to be presented by this at one o’clock in the morning by some strangers. And she’d agreed to bury it, which was why she brought it inside.
So, anyway, Monday morning comes around and I’m back at work, and I see Jean-Paul again, and he’s still absolutely livid about the way Julie treated him on the Saturday night, and when I mentioned to him about the dead cat arriving at one o’clock in the morning, and how upset Julie had been, this strange expression appeared on Jean-Paul’s face: a kind of shocked delight.
What it transpired had happened was Jean-Paul decided to summon Bune again, all by himself at home – no circle, no triangle, no ritual accoutrements or protections at all – and had asked the spirit to “give Julie what she deserved”. That’s how he’d put it and when we’d established the timings of all of this. It turned out that the dead cat had arrived at Mike and Julie’s soon after Jean-Paul had done this evocation at home and – I don’t know, I’m not sure – but after he’d heard what happened I’m not sure if Jean-Paul didn’t actually feel quite guilty. But whatever he felt he was also still angry, and he was vacillating between saying that he would never work with Mike and Julie again, that he was going to quit our group that we had going – it was a full-on drama. And when we tried to suggest to Jean-Paul that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go evoking Goetic demons in your own home without any protective measures, he completely disagreed and at the time he actually said: “You’re going after the wrong demon. The demon you should be going after”, he said, “was the one inside the circle” – meaning Julie.
So, not only had he summoned a demon into his house without any protection, he’d also left it up to that spirit to choose a punishment for Julie. He hadn’t even put any stipulation on what was going to happen! So, let’s just suppose for a moment that, subsequently, something horrible had happened to Julie: an accident, or she’d come to some sort of harm. Because Jean-Paul had left it up to the demon to decide the so-called “punishment”, if something horrible had happened then that would have been the realization of Jean-Paul’s intent, which, of course, ethically puts him in a horrible position.
The question of causality and magick, of course, is a whole other topic but, as a rule of thumb, I think most magicians would accept that if we intend or wish something in our magical working then we are responsible for that to exactly the same degree that we would be responsible for actions. Also, what came to light in my conversations with Jean-Paul, was that he’d been calling on Bune frequently for all sorts of things, not using any of the ritual protocols at all, and it seemed that what was happening with him was similar to what I’d experienced in my first working with a Goetic spirit: all sorts of little problems manifesting in my life, crying out to be fixed. In Jean-Paul’s case he’d given notice on the place where he was living because he’d found somewhere new, but then only to discover that the new place he’d supposedly secured had fallen through. So, he’d got no place to live.
“If you’re going to be doing magick to find a place to live,” I said to him, “please, lay off Bune.” And I could see by his expression when I said this to him that that was exactly what he was planning to do.
I’ve seen this quite often with people who work with the Goetia a lot, or similar magical systems. It’s like the spirits really get inside their heads to a degree where they seem to become dependent on them, and then it’s almost as if their lives then become full of lots of little problems like I discovered myself, which then need those same spirits to fix them. It’s almost like a kind of mafia protection racket. What I did, in an attempt to ease things a bit was to try to get away from the demons and get some other sort of energy involved. So, I did a working to call on the archangel Uriel to intervene and sort things out. And in fact, I learned another hard lesson from doing that. I did the evocation and this vast energy showed up that was way, way more powerful than anything that was needed to fix this situation. And I remember sitting there and my first response to this was: “Oh, I’m so sorry. Sorry.”
Again, I think, as magicians we’re confronted with this eternal question of whether it’s really necessary to call on entities to resolve mundane problems. This was just a drama, just personality dynamics playing themselves out, and you don’t really need an archangel to sort that out for you. And eventually, over a bit of time, things settled down and Jean-Paul also seemed as if he was leaving Bune out of his life.
My final tale of the Goetia today concerns the forty-fourth spirit, known as Shax: “He is a great Marquis,” says the text, “and appeareth in the form of a stock dove, speaking with a hoarse voice, but yet subtle. His office is to take away the sight, hearing or understanding of any man or woman at the command of the exorcist, and to steal money out of the houses of kings and to carry it again in 1200 years.”
I had by this point got very heavily into chaos magic, and I was doing workings with a large group of people, and one night I was walking across town and suddenly this idea for a ritual suddenly popped into my head: a whole, fully formulated idea. And it had a very strong Goetic element to it, and almost immediately that this idea came to me as I was walking along, I saw this horrible thing: it was a pigeon that had been injured, or was badly ill, and it was on its back and fluttering around and around in a circle, obviously dying. It was just a horrible image of suffering. I didn’t think of putting it out of its misery at the time. You know, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And there was a kind of ominous feeling about the whole thing. It felt like some sort of sign. And because that ritual had just popped into my mind shortly before, and it had a Goetic element to it, I found myself thinking: well, if this is an omen then which Goetic spirit would it be pointing to? And I looked through the list and I decided to go with Shax, because of his appearance in the form of a dove.
The ritual that had come to my mind was something that I called “Reverse Quaker Goetia”, and it was based on the idea that if the Quakers can hear the word of God by collecting together and sitting in silence, then could the opposite be true? Could it be that in the random noise of chaos we might hear a demon speaking to us?
There was this piece of software available at the time. You would feed it a sound file and it would chop it up into little segments and play it back to you with those segments all mixed around. So, it was a kind of software ghost box that could create kind of audio cutups from speech. So, instead of incense or a black mirror, inside the Goetic triangle I had a CD playing with some of these audio cutups on it, and it was a group working, so everyone was inside the circle. And I got everyone repeating over and over “Shax, I evoke thee” until they entered glossolalia and there was just noise – random, bizarre, chaotic speech everywhere. And when this had died down everybody listened to the random sounds coming from the triangle and listened for the voice of the demon.
According to my notes, I very clearly heard the phrase “lucky, delightful babies”, although that didn’t seem to lead anywhere significant. Again, there are warning signs here. Foremost among them perhaps, it being obvious that although I had an idea for a ritual, that had seemed to come before any kind of intent! This is often a danger when you’re working in groups. I think you want to think of a really good ritual so that people will have a really interesting time, and sometimes the ritual ends up being more important than the intention behind it, which, of course, is problematic.
At the time the group had some sort of overall wealth working going on, so what I did was I hung this ritual on the intention behind that. Shax seemed a suitable spirit to call on for this, given that he “steals money out of the houses of kings”.
A couple of weeks later I was in the health food shop and there’s a couple of customers in there, apart from myself, and someone behind the till, and one of the customers is looking at stuff on the shelves, and the other one, is in front of me in the queue for the till, and then suddenly I notice out of the pocket of the guy in front of me in the queue, some money drops out onto the floor.
There’s a fiver drops onto the floor, but also a wad of twenties. And this guy, obviously he’s felt the money drop out, because he bends down to pick it up, but for some reason he only picks up the fiver. So, there’s this wad of twenties still sitting there on the floor right in front of me that he’s not noticed that he’s lost. It’s like everybody in the shop is in a kind of trance. The guy hasn’t noticed the money he has dropped; the person behind the till is working away, occupied; and the other customer, they’re sort of browsing – they haven’t seen any of this. So, I bend down, and I pick up this money. And no one has seen me. No one has seen me pick it up. And I recognized it at the time – I was thinking to myself: this is the money from that working that I did.
But I couldn’t do it. I gave the guy his money back. And he seemed really appreciative of that, and the person behind the till was quite appreciative of it as well. But there was no way I was going to take it, because it just felt wrong. And again, in hindsight, it felt as if I probably should have realized that something like this was bound to happen because, as it says in the text, Shax steals money from the houses of kings, so, obviously, any money that was going to show up was going to be stolen money, and when it came to the crunch, I didn’t want stolen money.
Over time, and given the experiences I’d had, I started to come to the conclusion that Goetia was a system of magic that didn’t really hold much appeal for me. In that working with Shax, I’d asked the spirit for money. The money had been provided typically with Goetia in a very basic, material, physical way: money dropping on the floor in front of me. But I hadn’t been prepared to accept it under the conditions in which it had been provided, and that really seemed to reveal something to me.
So, suppose you ask a person for something. You say to them: Can you get me this? And then they bring it, and then you don’t want it. You probably really shouldn’t be bothering them in the first place. And that’s what I realized was going on in the way I was using the Goetia. It has a glamour about it. It has a materiality, a dramatic physicality about it. But that was all, at the end of the day, that it held for me. Evidently, I wasn’t prepared to accept what it offered on the terms on which it offered it. So, I’ve tended to steer clear of it ever since.
One very striking thing I’ve noticed down the years, in cases of people who do a lot of work with demonic spirits or who have experiences in which they’ve been distressed or bothered by what they’ve interpreted as a demon, is something very odd indeed, which is that no matter how much they seem to be suffering from the attentions of this spirit, they’re unwilling to give it up.
I’ve had people approach me and say, “I’ve got this entity in my life and it’s making my life a misery. It’s doing this, it’s doing that. I’m experiencing this awful thing, and that awful thing.” But what’s most often the case is if you turn around and say, “Right. Okay. Let’s get rid of this thing. Come on, let’s do a ritual. Let’s get it out of your life,” amazingly they’ll start to make excuses for it, or start to come up with reasons why that’s not possible. And I think maybe this gives us some interesting clues as to the nature of the spirits in the Goetia, of demonic or “evil” spirits in general, maybe.
Now, Crowley famously, at one point, says that for him the Goetic spirits are “portions of the brain”. He seemed to approach them, at one time, as very much as if they were kind of some sort of psychological phenomenon. The psychological paradigm makes a kind of sense when you’re looking at things from the perspective that we’re all separate individuals. But, I think, from a more mystical, spiritual perspective from which it’s clear that there’s no such thing as a separate self, then stuff that arises in experience is self-luminous and from that perspective it makes no more sense to say that a demon is part of the mind than it does to say a mind is just a collection of demons. The way I would look at it now is like this: the spirits of the Goetia are spirits. And what is spirit? Well, for me, spirit is that which does not exist. It has no form. It isn’t anywhere. It isn’t made of anything, and you’ll never detect it with any instrument ever, because there’s nothing there to detect. But just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it’s not real and doesn’t mean that it can’t have effects. A prime example is money: money doesn’t exist. You can’t find any money anywhere apart from representations of money, whether that’s cash or bank statements. Money itself doesn’t exist. Only representations of it exist, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t real. And if you go about the world with the assumption that it isn’t real, it’s not going to be long before you run into serious trouble. So, likewise, spirit doesn’t exist, but representations of it exist, and we make these representations in order to interact with it. And it’s not just the representations of spirit that are real because, obviously, there’s some sort of necessity to make those representations, so spirit itself obviously has reality even though it doesn’t have existence.
Now, obviously, things that exist can be different from each other. Things exist in different ways. So, if we’re saying that spirit is that which does not exist, then we’ve got a problem here. Because if there are different kinds of spirits, then the problem we’ve got is how do things that do not exist not exist in different ways? You might have assumed that what doesn’t exist is all pretty much the same. But there are things in our everyday experience that are there all the time, and are incredibly familiar to us, that don’t exist, and don’t exist in all manner of different ways. And these are relationships.
A relationship between two things doesn’t have any material existence. You’ll never find it. You’ll never detect it. You can’t measure it. Yet, of course, they’re obviously real and have massive real-world effects. So, the way I tend to look at it is that different sorts of spirits are different kinds of relationships to what doesn’t exist. For instance, you often hear people talking about a particular connection they might have with a deity. Somebody might say, “I have a relationship with Ganesha”. So, my take on this would be not that Ganesha is out there somewhere, in some sense, and we have a particular connection with Ganesha, but that Ganesha itself is a certain type of relationship to the absolute, to spirit, to what has no material form, to what doesn’t exist.
And I think that the Goetic spirits, demons, are characterized by a certain type of relationship to spirit. People who work with demons or who are troubled by demons, as I’ve suggested, don’t seem to want to let go of them, and that speaks to the type of relationship to spirit that a demon is. It’s a relationship that’s characterized by a kind of holding on, a kind of clinging, a kind of self-perpetuation, a kind of co-dependency maybe. You get the sense that a demonic spirit couldn’t be happier than being in a situation where the person it was attached to needed it to get absolutely everything in that person’s life done. It seems to want us to need it for absolutely everything. It kind of steals our desire away from us.
Ultimately, of course, some people take a very different view of the Goetic spirits and working with them. And one of the things I’ve seen pointed to is the evidence that the spirits listed in The Lesser Key of Solomon the King are basically old, pre-Christian deities dressed up in a demonic disguise. For example, various characteristics of spirit number fifty-six, Gremory, seem to link this entity historically to the goddess Astarte, and there are other persuasive examples of this also, and it might be argued that, well, these are not really demons at all; they’re actually ancient gods that have just been demonized retrospectively by Christianity.
But my response to that would be that what I still think is important here is the type of relationship that’s being expressed in that manoeuvre. Okay, these might be ancient gods that a Christian culture has attempted to cast out and dress up as “evil”, but there’s still a fundamental sense in that case of an entity that wants, an entity that clings, that endures, that perpetuates – a senile has-been god – but, despite all that Christianity has thrown at it, is still making itself felt. It’s not going quietly and is still clinging on, demanding our attention and observance.
We can connect with these ancient deities in their original, divine forms, if we want to. But that’s not what’s being presented to us in the text of The Lesser Key of Solomon the King. The relationship to spirit that we’re being encouraged to adopt in this system is a relationship to something that clings, that’s hungry for our desire. And in that case is it any wonder that the experience and the results of Goetic magick tend to take the form that (in my experience) they do, which is often a very direct, physical, in your face, kind of an experience.
It’s not a system of magick I would recommend to anybody, but unfortunately, in magick, like in everything else, we learn from our mistakes and our errors. So, I don’t really expect that any warnings I put out there are likely to deter anyone, if they want to make the experiment.
Anyhow, I’ve reached the end of my tales around the campfire, and my ad hoc philosophizing, for now. Don’t have nightmares. Look after yourselves and, if you’re bothered by entities then the most important thing, I think, is to make a resolution to free yourself from them. You can do that, if you want to. Look after yourself and let’s speak again soon.
Transcript of Episode #105 of the OEITH podcast, The Word of the Magus, exploring the role of the magus, their relationship to their word, the meaning and importance of this, and its practical and ethical implications.
The problem is, we’re standing here at the 21st century, stuck with individuality because we believed in it so much. It seems so important that we should all be distinct. What happens if we stop being distinct, and what happens if we think about individuality as something that was actually just scaffolding for where we are now?Grant Morrison
The speaker there was Grant Morrison, part of his famous appearance at the Disinformation Conference in the year 2000. Over the past few days, I’ve noticed a few people mentioning Morrison’s talk as the thing that switched them onto magick, and I certainly remember myself being inspired by it around the time that I first started practising, but, hopefully, whilst the sense of what Morrison said is still ringing in your mind, the words now of another speaker.
And then we come back to this question of self, and re-enchanting the self. And say included in that is seeing, sensing, knowing, feeling the divinity of the self. Your self. How does it feel right now if you consider the possibility of seeing your divinity? How does that strike you to know that you are divine?Rob Burbea
The speaker there was Rob Burbea, a Buddhist teacher who sadly passed away about just over a year ago, and who also had a big impact on me when I was starting out in my practice. Burbea developed a body of work that’s known today as Soul-Making Dharma.
Just to give you a sense of the approach of Soul-Making Dharma, here’s a description from a website of an organisation where it’s being taught: “Our Buddhist practice”, it says, “reveals to us that perception is empty and shapable. We see that we inevitably participate in making the world through the ways we sense and see.”
Now, I regard both Grant Morrison and Rob Burbea as magicians, and hopefully that description of Rob Burbea’ s body of work makes clear why that’s the case. So, Grant Morrison, Rob Burbea, both may be pointing towards similar ideas about transcending individuality and the possible benefits and the possible truths in that. But my focus today is not going to be the commonalities between them but actually the differences and the importance and relevance of those differences.
All magicians in their practice challenge the consensus reality, and their work is focused upon arriving at certain experiences of truth, although of course that can embrace all sorts of different notions and varieties of truth. Both of these magicians had an impact on me through their teachings, through their words, and what I’m going to explore a bit in this episode is the concept of the word of the magus. And, I have to say, that this wasn’t something that I’d planned long in advance to talk about, and I’m not sure where the idea came from but, perhaps appropriate to the topic itself, the idea of talking about it just kept coming back even though I found it difficult to persuade myself that anyone would really be that interested in it as a topic. But anyway, here it is, and let’s see where it leads.
As far as I can gather this whole idea of a magician having a word comes from Crowley and I’m not suggesting that there’s anything true about it in any absolute sense, but simply exploring what the implications of it are and what the use of it might be. One of the so-called holy books of Thelema, Liber 1, in fact, has the title Liber B vel Magi, and it’s in this text, which is very short, that Crowley sets out this idea of what a magus is.
Now, on the one hand the magus is a magician. Any magician. A person who practises magic. But on the other hand, that term also has the meaning of a specific grade, a grade being a specific level of
magical development. Now, of course, I don’t know what you yourself might make of grade systems. Possibly not very much, understandably. But the angle I’m coming at this from is if we practise magick then we will presumably over time get better at doing magick, and in that sense we all develop and progress. So, this concept of magus as a particular point of development on that continuum is presumably something that we all have the potential to confront at some point as we continue in our development as magicians.
So, what the hell is a magus? Crowley writes:
One is the Magus; twain His forces; four His weapons. These are the Seven Spirits of Unrighteousness; seven vultures of evil. Thus is the art and craft of the Magus but glamour. How shall He destroy Himself?
So, “One is the Magus”: in other words, a magus is an individual, an actual human being. “Twain his forces”: presumably, like every human being, the magus has the capacity to create and destroy: the two forces of love and hate; solve et coagula. “Four His weapons”: as Crowley puts it a little later on in the text:
With the Wand createth He. With the Cup preserveth He. With the Dagger destroyeth He. With the Coin redeemeth He.
The magus, the forces, the four weapons – one plus two plus four – these Crowley describes as the “Seven Spirits of Unrighteousness”. “The art and craft of the Magus” – of the magician, is – “but glamour”, he suggests.
“In the beginning”, writes Crowley, “doth the Magus speak Truth, and send forth Illusion and Falsehood to enslave the soul. Yet therein is the Mystery of Redemption. By His Wisdom made He the Worlds; the Word that is God is none other than He.”
And it’s pretty apparent here that Crowley is echoing the opening words of the Gospel of Saint John:
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.
A lot of people seem to confuse those words with the opening of the Bible, with the first lines of Genesis. But that’s not right, of course, and we’re in the New Testament here, which is less focused on God, perhaps, in his Old Testament manifestation and more focused upon Christ. And indeed, a few verses on into the Gospel of Saint John there’s those passages that read: “and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us”, and that word made flesh, of course, is Christ: God in human form.
In the beginning the word is with God, but the word is made flesh, given the human form of Christ and sent into the world. But what Crowley is doing here he’s suggesting that there’s a parallel and a difference between the word being made flesh into the form of Christ, and the way the magus practices his art and craft: “by his wisdom made he the world”, says Crowley. “The word that is God is none other than He”.
So, like Christ, Crowley is suggesting that the magus is the word, the word that is God. So, what kind of sense does it make to say that a person is the word of God? That we as individual beings are the word of God? Bear with me, because I think there is something important here, something useful. First of all, it’s important to consider that the word that gets translated as “word” in the New Testament Greek is logos, and this is difficult to translate into English because as well as the sense of “word”, it also has the sense of reason or plan or order or meaning, so when in the Gospel of Saint John it says “in the beginning was the word”, there’s also a connotation to that of something like “in the beginning was meaning”, “in the beginning was order”, “in the beginning was the implicit idea that things make sense”. Now, let’s contrast that with contemporary scientific materialism, which you’ll often hear expressing the sentiment that things don’t make sense; that we live in an essentially meaningless universe; that experience, that existence doesn’t have some sort of pre-ordained plan to it but it’s just the outcome of interactions between matter, different particles. Well, if you want to look at it that way then fair enough, but that kind of a conception of the universe is not a human one; that’s not a description of an experience that a human being can have. We, as human beings, simply do not do “meaninglessness”. And to illustrate that you often come across people who may be depressed and may be talking about their lives feeling meaningless, or pointless, or not having any sense to them. But, of course, what you’re hearing there is someone precisely making meaning of their experience by describing it as meaningless. As human beings we simply don’t have access to a dimension of experience that we could accurately describe in those terms. That’s not a human being.
This is what I think Crowley is getting at in this text when he says: “the word that is God is none other than He”, he being the magus, the magician, any of us. “The Word that is God is none other than He. How then shall He end His speech with Silence? For He is Speech”.
And I think what Crowley is getting at there is precisely this idea that the human experience is an experience of meaning, of the word, and we didn’t make that word: we are born into a reality in which meaning, sense, reason is an inherent property. And even if you’re going to go down the full scientific, materialist, paradigm, at the very least you have to admit that even if it were the case that you conceived of meaning as merely some sort of emergent property of the complexity of the human brain, you are still obliged to admit that we live in a universe which through the blind interaction of matter and the blind forces of evolution has produced a human brain in which the experience of meaning resides. In other words, we live in a universe that produces brains that have an experience of meaning. Meaning is an inherent property of the universe, and you just can’t get away from it. There is no alternative to it. “How then shall He end His speech with Silence? For He is Speech”. It’s impossible for a human being to be silent in the sense of not to make meaning, because in everything we do we’re making meaning. We can’t not do that.
So, these issues are part of the universal experience of being human. But I think what Crowley is getting at here is these are issues that magicians in particular must wrestle with, and wrestle with in a particular way, because the practice of magick is all about making meaning, producing certain experiences at will, experiencing certain kinds of truth. The very aim of magick is to turn a chosen meaning into a material manifestation. Magick is the making of the word into flesh, as it were.
How then shall He end His speech with Silence? For He is Speech.
Well, if the magician is speech, then to become silence the magician will have to become what they are not. They will have to attain to something beyond the human and, as Crowley hints in this text, that’s the attainment that belongs to the grade above the magus, the ipsissimus. But we’re not going to go there today.
The magus goes beyond magus by finding the way to silence, but while he or she remains a magus then it’s a different set of issues that confront him or her. The magus has themselves and their two forces and their four weapons, but they find that everything they send out into the world is illusion and falsehood and enslaves the soul and the art and craft – everything they do – is glamour, fake, a façade. That’s what the magus has to deal with. But even though the magician may realize this, Crowley says:
Let Him beware of abstinence from action. For the curse of His grade is that He must speak Truth, that the Falsehood thereof may enslave the souls of men. Let him then utter that without Fear, that the Law may be fulfilled.
What he’s saying there, I think, is that as magicians we are makers of reality. We bend reality according to our will, according to our vision, and we are but limited human beings so the reality, the truth, that we make through our magick is just a reflection of our personalities. It is “but glamour”. Perish the thought that anyone should take us seriously. Imagine that. Imagine if someone listened to these podcasts and took these as some sort of canonical pronouncement on how magick is supposed to be practised and upon what reality and truth are. That would be awful. That would be illusion and enslavement, because it’s merely my take on these things. The truth I’m presenting here, my word, is necessarily distorted by my personality. But the magus is someone who’s fully aware that there’s no way out of this dilemma: “Let Him beware of abstinence from action,” Crowley says, and that’s related to that idea we considered earlier about how there is no such thing within human experience of an exit from meaning. So, if you abstain from action then you’re putting that forwards as your word, as what you consider to be a valid approach to making meaning from life.
Really? Doing nothing?
But actually, that wouldn’t be doing nothing. It’s impossible for a human being, like we were saying, to do nothing, to not make any meaning whatsoever. What that would actually be is not nothing but a refusal of something. This is the curse of the grade. This is the curse of being a magician. Knowing that you can make meanings, you can bend reality, and knowing also that inevitably what you convey, what you manifest, is limited, distorted, by the prism of your own personality. At the same time, you know that this is perhaps preferable to being subject to somebody else’s notion of reality, but yours is inevitably going to be as false and as partial as theirs, and that there’s no way out from this dilemma. This is the curse. If you’re not enslaved by your own magick then you’re enslaved by someone else’s. There’s no getting off the ride – or there is, but that’s not one that’s possible within human experience. It comes from realizing how to transcend that.
This whole idea of the magus having a relationship to the word seems to come from just Crowley, as far as I can tell, and as such we might say, well, that was an issue for Crowley. Why does this have relevance to anybody else? But I think it does have relevance and I think it is important because all of us, I think, have a relationship to the word, to meaning, whether we’re aware of it or not. As magicians we make meanings. We forge realities. But do we ask ourselves the question: what is our relationship to meaning?
The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan had this idea of there being three registers that structure human experience: the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic. The only one of those I’m going to highlight here is the symbolic, which I think really approximates to the idea of the logos, perhaps, whereas the real is about what reality actually is in some sense, which is generally not accessible to human perception, and the imaginary tends to be about what we would like or wish or fantasize reality as being.
The symbolic is that register that embraces most of our daily experience in the everyday world. It’s the domain of human culture and all the signs and symbols and conventions through which that constitutes itself. It’s that shared domain where we find all the ideas and concepts by which we make sense of the world together, and the western magical tradition of course is part of this too. It has its conventions, traditions, its signs and its symbols, and a lot of the magical work that we do as magicians might be about manipulating these. Sigil magick, for instance, is basically us making a sign or symbol that represents something that we choose it to represent. The signs and symbols of a particular culture determine the way that the persons within that culture experience the world. What we’re doing in sigil magick, in a way, is making our own culture. We’re saying: “I’m deciding that this sign is going to influence my experience in this particular way”, whereas usually in the everyday world we’re having signs imposed upon us. From this perspective we have a relationship with the word, with meaning, all of the time. It’s part of being human. But that relationship can change, as the example of sigil magick shows.
Now, as often seems to happen when producing these podcasts, I stumbled across a book that I picked up at random from the bookshelf, by a Lacanian psychoanalyst called Darian Leader, a book called Strictly Bipolar, which is an exploration of manic depression and bipolar disorder. And I stumbled across some passages that seemed really relevant to this idea of us having a relationship to the word, to meaning, and how that can change, and how different sorts of relationships seem to be possible that could shape our magical identity.
In bipolar disorder, as it’s typically represented, people experience deep lows of depression that alternate with periods of highs, periods of so-called “mania”. One of the things that commonly happens during manic highs is that people can find themselves entering into inappropriate relationships or becoming sexually promiscuous, and Leader quotes the example of a woman who in a manic episode seduced her best friend’s boyfriend. And at the time she had this sense that something was wrong, but she couldn’t quite work out what it was. She couldn’t quite remember what it was that she wasn’t supposed to do in this situation. As she put it, he was gorgeous, I was available, why not? What Leader suggests in this book is that in bipolar disorder, manic depression, what we’re seeing is an oscillation in a person’s relationship to the symbolic. So usually for the woman in the example, the person who she slept with appears to her as her best friend’s boyfriend. That’s who he is ordinarily. That’s the sign that she recognizes him under. That’s his meaning to her: he’s her best friend’s boyfriend, and under the rules of our culture you don’t sleep with your best friend’s boyfriend. But in the manic episode there was a sense that he no longer meant that to her, that there was some kind of shift in her understanding of the position he occupied in her life, a symbolic position, such that that sign under which she recognized him no longer seemed to apply.
Now, Darian Leader remarks that one of the difficulties working in therapy with people with manic depression is that it often seems as if having insights into themselves doesn’t seem to register. The sort of insights that with other clients give them access to important meanings about their lives just don’t seem to carry the same weight for people who might have a diagnosis of manic depression. And Leader makes some interesting suggestions on why this might be the case. He writes:
Manic depressive subjects may arrive at key connections in therapy which have little or zero effect, as if the insight had no real value. Perhaps what has made some clinicians despair of working with manic depression here is, in fact, a clue as to its very logic. When manic the signifiers that determine one’s life are just words among other words, as if their full weight has not been registered. They can be cast as mere jokes or flippant comments. The depression is then the return of their weight, the massive impact of which is absent in times of mania.Darian Leader
So, what he’s pointing to there, perhaps, is how our relationship to meaning, to the key signifiers in our lives, the signs, the symbols that give our lives meaning – how our relationship to that can change and, perhaps, in manic depression or bipolar disorder we might see that in a particularly vivid way. But these are possibilities, of course, available to any human being and maybe all of us to some extent are expressing different relationships to meaning at different times and changing our relationship to meaning, perhaps, over the course of our lives. Sometimes this can be a relationship that has a kind of depressive edge to it where meanings are so heavy, so important, that we kind of feel crushed beneath them. And then at other times the opposite, perhaps, where we kind of fly, rise up above meanings, and we’re looking down at them and laughing at them and feeling as if we’re on the outside and that we’re free and can do, can do anything in that space and meaning doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t hold us at all.
In terms of magical practice, maybe we see different kinds of magical practice arising from different kinds of relationship between the magician and the word. Someone who has a tendency towards that more depressive side of the continuum, as we described it, where meanings are heavy and taken seriously, this might produce the kind of magical practice where tradition is very important, where it feels right that texts are followed to the letter and attempts are made to arrive at some kind of authenticity in our magical practice, using authentic ingredients, performing rituals at a ceremonially appropriate time, cultivating relationships with certain spirits and taking these very seriously. This is the sort of practice where a lot of respect is given to the signs and symbols that are part of it. And at the other end of the continuum, maybe, the opposite: here, nothing is true, everything is permitted. Everything’s much more ad hoc and meaning is held very lightly. And this might sound very chaos magicky, but I don’t think it’s limited to that. At this end of the spectrum ecstasy is important. Any approach to magic that’s oriented towards transgressing or “going beyond”: sex magick, psychedelics, inducing trance states, meditating for hours on end – all of those kinds of things are on this side of the continuum. So, it’s not just about the contrast between traditionalists and non-traditionalists.
For example, there’s a lot of talk around at the moment about “closed practices”: the idea that certain types of magical practice should only be undertaken by those from a certain cultural background. A lot of people advocating this approach seem to be based on TikTok and are often younger practitioners, but I think what’s being expressed there is an approach to practice that’s more at that depressive end of the continuum. Closed practices seem to be about anchoring practice in authenticity, which is presumed to be rooted in the practitioner’s cultural background. It seems in essence to be an attempt to ensure that the signs and symbols of magical practice are anchored, deeply rooted, taken seriously, not detached from the proper context in which they’re supposed to be. And, linking this back for a moment to those two excerpts that we heard at the beginning from Grant Morrison and Rob Burbea, and how maybe we could really hear there this distinction that we’re talking about. Morrison and Burbea may be pointing to similar things, pointing to an experience of the transpersonal. But Morrison is all about soaring up beyond individuality whereas Burbea is about relaxing down into the divine.
Morrison, when he’s giving that talk, famously, he’s quite literally coming up on acid. His word as a magus shatters convention and breaks through the everyday and points a way beyond that. And Burbea, what he’s doing there it’s like he’s easing us gently, calmly, into a sense of the divine that’s already here, already inside, close at hand, and he’s inviting us to nestle down into it, to make ourselves at home in it. And as I said, at the beginning, I regard them both as magicians. They both had a huge impact on me, on my practice, but both have a radically different approach to magic and a radically different approach to meaning, to the word.
This also brings in questions of ethics. Where our relationship to the word is concerned, it might look at first as if attaching to the word is ethical and detaching from it is not. But I think either can constitute an attempt to act for the best, depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it’s important and for the best to take things very seriously and pay respect to certain symbols, but then of course it’s easy to think of circumstances in which the opposite approach is for the best: disrespecting, detaching, taking things lightly as a way of diminishing their power and importance.
Attaching to and detaching from the word aren’t ethical or unethical in themselves, they’re just strategies that we can adopt in specific contexts. Like Crowley said: “One is the Magus; two are his forces”, and those forces are, I think, this detaching or attaching, making new meanings or destroying existing meanings. So, Crowley and his idea of the magus represents magick as a process of coming into relationship with the word, with meaning. We gradually become adept at making meanings and turning them into realities. But becoming a magus, seen as a particular stage of magical development, according to Crowley, that’s about recognizing how to an extent all the meanings and realities that we create in our magic are false to some degree, and the magus is somebody who has kind of come to terms with that by uncovering, recognizing what their word, their meaning actually is, albeit false.
And then, Crowley suggests, there’s a way out. There’s an exit, a way to get off the ride, which is the grade above, the ipsissimus, which is the practitioner who has realized how to be silent. But this is not something that is possible to manifest in the realm of human experience. This is the level of truth that lies beyond the word, beyond meaning. Looking at magick from the perspective of its being about the magician’s relationship to meaning, to the word, can help us bring into focus questions about ethics, which are really difficult to grapple with, I think.
If magick is about our relationship to the word, to truth, then what about our relationship to the good, which is where ethics resides, perhaps? I think this is one of the realities about spiritual practice, magical practice, that people really struggle with, which is our ethics is something that we have to bring to the practice ourselves. Our practice doesn’t create that for us. It doesn’t come with an ethical framework at all.
Magic, spirituality, is the practice of bringing ourselves in relationship to truth, whereas ethics is the practice of bringing ourselves into relationship with the good. They are two different sets of practices, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t bring them into relationship with each other. But I think it’s a fact that developing a relationship to truth won’t reveal to us necessarily how we develop a relationship to the good.
I think I was really lucky in that the first encounter I had with a guru was Andrew Cohen. This was around the mid-2000s and at that time he had a reputation for being highly awakened and being able to transmit experiences of his awakening to other people. And Alan Chapman and myself at the time, we went to one of his talks, just to see what he was about, and we didn’t take the claims that he could transmit his enlightenment to people too seriously, but both of us were both really taken by surprise when after going to the talk we both started to have really vivid, intense awakening experiences, apparently as a consequence of just being in his proximity. And if that sounds a bit incredible and too much to believe, then that was exactly how it seemed to us as well at the time!
But what was also apparent to us was that although Andrew Cohen seemed highly awakened and was able to transmit that to other people, there was definitely something “off” about him. He wasn’t giving off a vibe of being essentially a nice person to be around. And that was clear to myself and Alan, at least. And indeed, a few years later all these revelations came out from students of Andrew Cohen talking about how they’ve been abused in various ways, and all of this can be found written about on the internet. And Andrew Cohen himself admitted to this and withdrew from his role as a guru.
As I was saying, I just think I was incredibly lucky to have early on an experience of somebody who was evidently deeply in relationship with the truth, someone for whom the proximity of the non-dual was so intense that it kind of spilled out of him onto other people, but at the same time it was evident that, as a human being, he wasn’t someone who I would want to have as a friend, or even as a colleague.
It’s pretty clear to me that a magician’s relationship to the word, to truth, doesn’t necessarily reflect at all on their relationship to the good, to goodness. We tend to assume that spiritual practices by necessity are in themselves good – ethically good – and that they lead to the development in us of goodness. But they don’t. That’s the reason why the Buddha taught that the first practice and the last practice is morality. You practice morality at the beginning, whilst you’re doing the spiritual stuff, becoming awakened, and you practice morality at the end of that also, after that process has reached some sort of development.
As magicians we have to bring with us the ethical framework in which we perform the practices. The practices don’t do that for us. That’s our responsibility. Our ethics is a reflection of who we are, not a reflection of the practices that we happen to be doing, and I think confusion around this issue gets played out in what today is called “cancel culture”. The assumption here is that if someone’s relationship to goodness is not all that it could be, then their relationship to the word won’t be either. And I’m thinking of debates at the moment around Crowley. His ethical conduct, at times, was certainly not all it could have been, and the ethical framework of his era that he was operating in feels these days somewhat distant from where we would like to be now, I think. And there has been debate about whether a form of Thelema – Crowley’s magical system – would be preferable that somehow didn’t have Crowley, the man, front and centre.
And then there’s a figure such as Julius Evola, who quite openly espoused fascism, although he tried to wriggle out of that to some extent, and who was quite openly racist and sexist and whose ideas have more recently been taken up by magical practitioners of the alt-right. I think it’s understandable if people don’t want to touch with a barge pole an intellectual pedigree like that. But at the same time his books on Buddhism, on Tantra, and his earlier writings on magick, produced with a group of cohorts, known as the UR Group – these demonstrate that he knew what magick is, how it works, and had a highly developed relationship to truth. But, taking his book on Buddhism as an example, look at what he did with that. That book sets out really clearly, vividly, what awakening is and how it’s attained, but for Evola, awakening is about giving yourself an edge over everybody, about using it to your advantage and being able to dominate other people through it and proving your superiority over them.
So, I think Evola had a really good grip on truth, on how things are, but he approached that from and put it into a perspective that was totally horrendous, totally twisted, and cruel and irresponsible. There are plenty of decent writers on magick, so you don’t have to read Evola, but at the same time, if you do, there are ideas of real value there. He can be read profitably for his relationship to the truth, but I wouldn’t bother reading him for his relationship to the good. Because he doesn’t have much of a relationship to the good.
A person’s ethics reflect on them, but what reflects on their relationship to the truth is their word. It’s the word of the magus that’s the valuable bit when we approach their teachings. Their relationship to goodness, on the other hand, may or may not be useful to us. Crowley, Evola, Jesus, the Buddha: they all had quite different relationships to goodness and to truth. Their word can help us awaken to truth, but none of them can make us a good person or a bad person. That’s up to us. That’s our responsibility. They might have laid down some rules that we might decide to follow, but following rules isn’t what makes someone an ethical person. Anyone can follow rules. Nazis were very good at following rules. Our relationship to goodness is a separate practice from our magical practice.
The word of the Buddha was anatta, “no self”; and the word of Jesus Christ was agape, “love”; and the word of Crowley was thelema, “will”; and the word of Evola, I think, was arya, which means “nobility”. All of these words point us towards the truth in different ways, but none of them necessarily makes us a better person. We saw what Evola did with the word of the Buddha, anatta, “no self”. We saw where he decided to take that.
In 2008 a word presented itself to me in a dream, which I’ve taken as my word as a magus, and over the years I’ve tried to use that word as a way of thinking about what kind of lies and falsehoods I’m telling myself and other people through the way that I approach magick. I wrote about the experience of finding the word in A Desert of Roses, but what I’ll say about it here is that the word is elephairo, a Greek word which means, basically, “to deceive”. But this word, elephairo, has a particular set of connotations. It appears in Homer’s Odyssey in a passage towards the end.
So, Odysseus has been wandering around for – I can’t remember how many years – trying to find his way home to his wife, Penelope. And she’s waiting for him patiently at home and the house is full of suitors, who are just trying to get off with Penelope in the absence of Odysseus. And one day she takes in a stranger into the house, gives him shelter. She doesn’t know it, but it’s Odysseus, her husband. He’s come back. She doesn’t recognize him, and they get into conversation together and Penelope says to him:
Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning and in no wise do they find fulfilment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams and one is fashioned of horn, and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfilment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass when any mortal sees them. But in my case, it was not from thence methinks that my strange dream came.Homer, The Odyssey
Now, that strange dream to which she refers was what she’d dreamt the night before: that her husband Odysseus had returned home. So, she’s saying that she thinks this dream was false: it’s not going to come true, and it came to her through this so-called gate of ivory rather than through the gate of horn through which true dreams that actually come to pass are sent. And what’s at work here is some totally untranslatable pun in Greek. So, the word in Greek for “ivory” is elephas, which is where we get our word “elephant” from, and this sounds like the Greek word for “to deceive”, elephairo. Hence this idea of a gate of ivory through which deceptive dreams come, dreams that aren’t true. And the gate of horn comes from the fact that the Greek word for “horn” sounds like the Greek word for “to fulfil”, so dreams that fulfil themselves come through the gate of horn. Totally untranslatable, but the upshot of it being this image that dreams come through one of two gates: either the gate of ivory, eliphas, elephairo, which deceive, or the gate of horn, which means they fulfil themselves, they’re true.
And Virgil uses this same image in the Aeneid, when Aeneas returns from his visit to the underworld back to the waking world. Virgil states that Aeneas came back to the waking world through the gate of ivory – in other words the visions that he’d had down there in the underworld come into the waking world via the gate of ivory, the gate through which deceptive dreams pass. And for centuries scholars have puzzled about this. Why it was that Aeneas’s visions of the underworld are said by Virgil to come into waking consciousness through the gate of ivory that brings deception?
So, bound up in this word that I received in a dream – and I had no conception of what it meant when it arrived – but bound up with it are all these notions of truth and falsity, and dreams and reality, and all sorts of paradoxes because where that word appeared in The Odyssey, we have Penelope talking to a stranger, telling the stranger that her dream of her husband coming back to her from the night before was a false dream – is in fact true, because the stranger standing before her is her husband in disguise. And then the paradox here of what is actually false is not the dream, but the reality, the disguise that’s the false bit, not the dream. The dream is true. And also in The Aeneid, Aeneas’s encounters in the underworld, which are life-changing, powerfully affecting visions that shape his destiny – these come into the waking world supposedly through the gate of ivory, deception.
The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges offered an interpretation of why Virgil had Aeneas return through the gate of ivory. He suggested that, similar to the situation that we talked about in The Odyssey, that Aeneas passes through the gates of ivory because he’s actually entering the world of dreams at that point – i.e., returning back to reality. Virgil was suggesting, Borges hints, that what we call the waking world, everyday reality, is actually the false bit, the deceiving bit. So, again, it’s not the visions that are false, it’s the world that they’re brought back into which is the illusion.
So, this word also appeared to me in a dream, and I’ve taken it as my word as a magus, and I use it to meditate on the type of misconceptions and falsehoods that I bring into the world through my word and my practice. And this happened before I’d even read Crowley’s paper on the magus and the word of the magus, but my word, I think, is elephairo, “to deceive”, and it’s related to this idea of the gate of ivory through which false dreams pass and often, I think, dreams do feel to me more important than reality, more real than reality. And I love to get lost in dreams and images and I try to use these as a means of navigating my way to truth, but I love the qualities of dreams and images in and for themselves also.
So, my word as a magus is elephairo, and the aperture through which I speak is the gate of ivory, and maybe this podcast is my ivory tower. But I hope it’s been of some interest and value to you, and I hope that we speak again soon. Take care.
Belief-shifting. A powerful magickal technique. Because by changing belief we change perception, and by changing perception reality changes, for what is reality other than perception?
Suppose everyone knew this. Suppose everyone, by choosing what to believe, could construct a reality.
Unfortunately, this is increasingly the world we inhabit. Aided and abetted by technology, reality is progressively more amenable to belief. Yet “magickal” is probably not the word to describe the current state of the world.
Belief is an echo of knowledge. Belief can reproduce a sense of certainty but none of the substance of knowledge. The difference between them is work: to gain knowledge we must do something. Knowledge implies a methodology. To know about Alaska we could read a book, ask an Alaskan, join a study group, or travel there to see. The more we do, the more and various types of knowledge we gain. Someone who knows something, even if it is false, can say how they came by that knowledge. Someone who believes, even if what they believe is true, is not telling you what they have found but what they hope to.
Belief is useful when we cannot do the work required to know. What is needed to do the work might be unavailable, or it might take time to obtain it or learn how to use it. Belief guides and focuses our effort, like a picture of a destination before we arrive. Belief is a motivation, not an end in itself. Later we might enjoy an opportunity to realise how our belief was wrong.
Knowledge and belief take forms that can make it hard to distinguish between them. The difference is not the true/false binary (because both belief and knowledge may be either false or true) but the amount of work done. In a digital culture we have lost capacity to appraise the analogue quantity of work that produces the material before us, as if each item somehow manifested from a uniform degree of effort.
Belief requires minimal effort whereas finding or making facts demands work. Belief-shifting is magickal because it seems to leap-frog work and jump directly to the experience of belief becoming reality. But beliefs do not come from nowhere. They are reflections of ideals. Not even a magickian can transform laziness into a virtue, because magick requires us to believe well. Any belief will produce effects, but the necessity for excellence in belief may only become apparent from unpleasant consequences.
That the needs of future generations are being sacrificed to the interests of an elite might not seem an unreasonable belief to many. But positing a paedophilic liberal conspiracy (Oluo 2016) will incur a different set of consequences. Likewise, it is perhaps not unreasonable to believe that unrestrained expression of opinions will cause actual harm, but believing it is rightful to ban the writings of J.K. Rowling because of views she has voiced elsewhere (Harrison 2020) leads down a different reality tunnel.
The Platonic ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty are universal. Ultimately, as rational animals, we all want the same, but we differ in our means of realising it. Knowledge is closer to truth than believing, but where we cannot do the work required to know then we must believe. Excellence in belief is striving to manifest to the highest degree the ideal in our belief. To be on the Left is to manifest an urge for freedom from what is regarded as bad. To be on the Right is to enact an impulse to maintain what is regarded as good. From the perspective of the ideal they amount to pretty much the same. The closer we align to the ideal, the less scope for division and conflict there will be.
Alignment with the ideal is the Great Work of Magick. “[T]he Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, was how Crowley (2000: 126) famously defined magick, but he emphasised also the importance of discovering True Will – knowing what we truly want, which is by definition the ideal. Only by doing the work required to know True Will can we approach excellence in belief, which is how we manifest the ideal as best we can.
Magick can look like a quick and easy way to bend reality by shifting our beliefs. Post-modernism and digital communications have widely distributed the tools for doing this. We need not look far for examples of people doing it and where it has led them. Belief might seem to offer a convenient alternative to knowledge, but the dire consequences of this confusion are now endemic, and so too of the failure to believe well.
Crowley, Aleister (2000) Magick: Liber ABA Book Four. York Beach, ME: Weiser.
Harrison, Ellie (2020). JK Rowling: Hachette UK book staff told they are not allowed to boycott author over trans row. The Independent (17 June), https://tinyurl.com/y3u4kuxd (independent.co.uk, accessed January 2021).
Oluo, Ijeoma (2016). Pizzagate is a lie. But what it says about our society is real. The Guardian (5 December), https://tinyurl.com/zz7aqbd (theguardian.com, accessed January 2021).
“The words are almost interchangeable: magick and art”, claims Alan Moore (2015: 0’10”). But I will be taking the contrary view, arguing how magick and art are fundamentally unalike.
When performing group magick in a public place, our cover story was always the same: we were a theatre group or a team of performance artists. So there is, as Moore suggests, a resemblance between art and magick, but at the same time a stark difference, or else it would not have been possible to deny we were doing one by claiming we were doing the other.
Art is admissible within public institutions and can also be a commercial activity, but if magick has value this is proportionate to the extent it releases us from mundane social and financial constraints. Artists can use magick as an aesthetic in which to wrap their work, and magicians can hide theirs behind a facade of art.
Moore, instead of maintaining a distinction between them, seems inclined to draw art and magick even closer together:
If they were only to take on the values of the other camp then we would have magick that […] might actually produce wonderful works of art […] that would give a purpose that modern magick is almost completely lacking. At the same time, if contemporary artists were to be drawing upon the ideas that are in magick then we wouldn’t be getting all of this empty vacuous conceptual shit that art seems to be frozen in at the moment. (Moore 2015: 1’16”)
Of course, we want better art and better magick. But to be good, does art need to draw upon “the ideas that are in magick” rather than find new ones? Will magick “produce wonderful works of art” when magicians are not necessarily artistically trained? If magick lacks purpose, does it then even deserve the title of magick at all? “All art is quite useless” declared Oscar Wilde (1998: xxiv), which perhaps suggests that the utterly purposeless has more more in common with art.
Lionel Snell (writing as Ramsey Dukes) delves deep into this question of where magick and art overlap and depart. His classic text SSOTBE (Dukes 2000) postulates a quaternity of world views – Art, Magick, Science, and Religion – which he explores through comparisons and contrasts. Although he cautions against over-simplification, Snell suggests: “Magic, Art, Religion and Science represent movement towards Wholeness, Beauty, Goodness and Truth respectively” (Dukes 2000: 133). Magick aims at Wholeness, then – oneness, or unity, in other words. The trajectory of magick is union. Magick brings self and world into direct connection. By means of magick we shift our consciousness in order to harmonise with reality. Whereas art, in Snell’s schema, takes a different trajectory, one that by engendering beauty aims at reconciling reality with ourselves:
A poet once told me that it was wrong to think of a symbol as a sort of telephone number connecting one to an idea, and I was surprised because that is exactly what it is in Magical usage. […] In the Magic sector meaning is a precious thing, a pointer towards wholeness, while in the Art sector meaning has become a tangle of associations that one seeks to cut away to reveal life in its pure essence. (Dukes 2000: 46-7)
By bringing art and magick together, Moore envisions that “they would both have a human purpose and would relate to the world in which we are actually all existing” (Moore 2015: 2’47”). For Moore, it seems that neither magick nor art presently connect with reality well enough. But from Snell’s perspective, Moore’s conception of magick seems closer to the trajectory of art. To “have a human purpose” and “relate to the world” might be an end for art, but for magick it is only a means. Magick does not need to relate to or reflect reality but offers a means of directly uniting with it.
Something that is beautiful stops us in our tracks. We admire it for what it is and do not want or need to pass beyond it. In this way the productions of art are ends in themselves. But the products of magick are different; they are “pointers towards wholeness”. As Crowley famously expressed it:
By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them. (Crowley 1909)
The “ideas that are in magic” (as Moore put it) have value in allowing us to unite with the absolute, but not in successfully representing it. The Holy Guardian Angel, for example, is a dualistic expression of the non-dual; it is a knowingly poor representation of something that nevertheless enables us to unite with what it points at. No self-respecting artist would produce poor representations, but magicians sometimes strive for this. A good sigil is one that helps us disregard what it represents.
What threw these issues into relief for me recently is The Dark Pool (2020), a podcast created by Rob C. Thompson, occult scholar and a professor of theatre and performance at Chesapeake College, Maryland. It throws these issues into relief because of how it blurs the boundaries between magick and art.
“So many occultists talk about how […] knowing things is not achieving any kind of wisdom. True wisdom comes from practice,” Thompson stated in an interview (Lux Occult 2020: 46’21”), describing how this was his inspiration to make something that was more than a commentary on the occult but also included practical magick:
I created a meditation and I had four of my actors who were fairly new to the group […] and I wanted to experiment with them and have them do the meditation which asked them to reach into that subconscious space and find sounds and just make sounds. And then I built each of them their own meditation track based on those sounds with a mind to attuning them to the higher vibration of their consciousness […] I tell them that through this process they will attune to their subliminal consciousness – and they do. There is a reasonable amount of success. (Lux Occult 2020: 47’21”)
It is an interesting idea, and I agree with Thompson’s interviewer, Luxa, when she comments how The Dark Pool has a similar feel to the film documentary series Hellier (Pfeiffer 2019). This perhaps arises from their shared domain somewhere between art and magick. Whereas Hellier slides inexorably towards the occult, The Dark Pool veers in the direction of art. The meditation Thompson gives his students becomes a springboard for an improvised drama – about a college professor who assigns his students an occult practice for motives that only gradually become apparent. The self-referentiality of The Dark Pool blurs the boundary between fact and fiction, to the extent that in the quotation above it seems unclear whether Thompson is describing a factual magickal working, or simply the fictional plot-arc of his drama, or – being one and the same – both.
This blurring of reality and fiction is not in itself “magickal” but is available fully within the realm and resources of art. The results of the meditation could have been recorded and left to speak for themselves, yet this is not what Thompson gives us. However, the self-referentiality of The Dark Pool ensures that we are not entirely certain that this is not what we are hearing.
I use a lot of students on the podcast, acting students […] My administration got wind of the work and made me promise that I wasn’t forcing them to do it for a grade or that they needed it to complete the theatre degree. (Lux Occult 2020: 25’57”)
This comment from Thompson suggests that what is at work in The Dark Pool is the same dynamic we considered at the outset, the game of hide and seek that magicians play with art. As we have considered previously, the ethics of magick are concerned with providing insight and salvation, which often conflicts with the ethics of a secular mainstream focused more on preventing possible harm. As an educator with an interest in the occult, The Dark Pool offers Thompson and his students a frame whose apparent fictionality will not offend the university administration, and yet which teases its audience with the possibility that they are listening to a work of magick.
Crowley, Aleister (1909). Liber O vel Manus et Sagittae sub figurâ VI. https://tinyurl.com/y6lrgdpc (hermetic.com). Accessed November 2020.
Dukes, Ramsey (2000). SSOTBME Revised. England: El-Cheapo.
Lux Occult (2020). Lux occult podcast episode 10 – ritual, performance and theatre with Dr. Rob C. Thompson from Occult Confessions and The Dark Pool. https://tinyurl.com/y2byvh7j (podcasts.apple.com). Accessed November 2020.
Moore, Alan (2015). Art and magic. https://tinyurl.com/y24376hh (youtube.com). Accessed November 2020.
Pfeiffer, Karl, director (2019). Hellier. Planet Weird.
Thompson, Rob C., et al (2020). The dark pool. https://tinyurl.com/yyuje6f3 (darkpoolproject.com) Accessed November 2020.
Wilde, Oscar (1998). The Picture of Dorian Grey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
I am not sure that he ever wrote it down, but Alan Chapman gave what I consider the best definition of the Holy Guardian Angel (HGA):
A dualistic representation of the non-dual.
In eastern spiritual traditions realisation of non-duality is labelled “awakening” or “enlightenment” whereas the western magickal tradition personifies this realisation as the Knowledge and Communication of the HGA (KCHGA).
“Angel” is often employed as a term of convenience in western magick for any type of entity, process, or experience that lacks a material basis. For instance, if a person survives a situation or illness against extreme odds, this can be experienced as the intervention of an angel. Similarly, processes that act on a transhuman level (such as historical, national or cultural transitions) may also find expression as angelic personifications. A famous example is the Angel of the Mons, an entity that supposedly shielded British forces from certain defeat at the Battle of Mons in Belgium, 1914. This incident most likely originated from fiction and propaganda, but that did not prevent eyewitness reports of angels from troops who were present (e.g. Russell 2017).
The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, our source text for the KCHGA, powerfully describes what meeting our HGA is like:
you shall see your Guardian Angel appear unto you in unequalled beauty; who also will converse with you, and speak in words so full of affection and goodness, and with such sweetness, that no human tongue could express the same […] In one word, you shall be received by him with such affection that this description which I here give unto you shall appear a mere nothing in comparison. (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 84-5)
The experience of non-duality can be described in many ways, but the dualistic representation of the non-dual that is the HGA very clearly portrays it as like being in the presence of someone lovely beyond expression. For Abraham, the narrator of the text, the KCHGA is a coming into relationship with a being absolutely good and perfect. It is a wondrous and unique relationship: “your Guardian Angel is already about you, though Invisible, and conducteth and governeth your heart, so that you shall not err” (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 78).
To arrive at the KCHGA demands of the magician attainment of the understanding by which this relationship becomes possible. The ritual given in the text for this purpose (henceforth referred to as the Abramelin ritual) is elaborate and long and it is not my aim to rehearse it here. What it boils down to essentially is prayer, but not routine or formulaic prayer: “it is absolutely necessary that your prayer should issue from the midst of your heart” (MacGregor-Mathers 1976: 65). In its very core, the Abramelin ritual is simply heart-felt prayer, for a couple of hours every day, over a period of six months.
It is widely repeated that Aleister Crowley failed at the Abramelin ritual. The full story is far more complicated and subtle than that. I shall discuss this in more detail in the book I am currently writing, but the gist of my argument is that Crowley completed the Abramelin ritual numerous times in different modalities. Yes, he did not complete the ceremony in the specific form that Abraham describes, but instead he fulfilled its objective through the use of an alternative ritual (both physically and astrally), through visionary trance work, and through purely psychological techniques.
As related in The Baptist’s Head Trilogy, Alan Chapman and I had the good fortune to discover that the methods and techniques of chaos magick can be applied to awakening. So why go to the trouble of sourcing a purpose-built temple with a terrace covered in river sand (which is what Abraham instructs us to do) when (as Crowley demonstrated) simpler methods lead just as surely to the HGA?
However, just because the methods are simplified this does not mean the work will be easy. The “fake it till you make it” methodology of chaos magick will only take us so far into the KCHGA. To imagine we can “belief shift” our way into (or out of) an encounter with the HGA would imply a controlling ego deciding what and when to believe. This may suffice for sorcery, but the KCHGA is theurgy. Eventually we will hit a point where our ego and the dualistic representation that is the angel must yield to the direct experience of the non-dual. Sometimes a preliminary to this occurs as a vision of how the HGA has always been with us, a guiding and nurturing presence. But the full realisation of the KCHGA is that there was never any separation from the HGA – we are one and the same.
I have noticed recently some recurrent difficulties described by magicians undertaking this work from a chaos magickal perspective. The first of these is a sense of incompleteness: “amazing things happen but don’t lead anywhere”. The second is relentless doubt over whether the entity invoked is truly the HGA. The solution to both is quietly ready and waiting in the very notion of the HGA itself.
Unlike other traditions that characterise awakening or enlightenment as a state, the KCHGA is presented as a relationship. The practices we undertake for the KCHGA are therefore intended to cultivate that relationship, rather to act simply as a means for attaining a result.
An analogy: we could go to a restaurant to eat, or with someone on a date. In both cases the aim is food, but in the latter case something more besides. We could still enjoy a good date even if the food were bad. Success at the KCHGA is developing the kind of relationship where the date is great even if the food never arrives.
As previously mentioned, the KCHGA is theurgy not sorcery. Magicians with a background in chaos magick are likely to arrive at the KCHGA with a very results-based mindset, and this is where that feeling of “that was amazing but now – so what?” originates. Just because you had some nice food with someone does not mean you have found the love of your life. Once we decide to use the KCHGA paradigm as the means to arrive at non-duality (and there are plenty of good reasons to do so) then the work has to focus on the relationship to the angel rather than upon any state or experience construed as an ultimate goal or result of this.
Flip it around: suppose you were a HGA whose sole task is to guide to awakening the human being you are guardian over. Your human frequently invites you around for dinner, occasionally seeming totally into you and having a great time, but on other occasions they complain of feeling confused because these meetings are not leading anywhere. In this situation, what would you want to say to your human? What would be the likely effect of their behaviour on your relationship?
Sorcery is great for getting a handle on your HGA. Chaos magick techniques will readily obtain the HGA’s name, sigil, visual image, and other attributes, but these are not the goal; they only serve the KCHGA to the extent that they enable the relationship to develop. Chaos magick obtains results but does not help in ascertaining if those results are true. If you are the type of magician who cringes at seeing the last word of the previous sentence without scare quotes, then the work of the KCHGA may become clouded by doubt.
Rather than thinking in terms of whether a correct result has been gained, once more we should approach the question in relational terms. Suppose you were seeing someone but were not certain they were truly what and who they claimed? If there are grounds for supposing the other is not what they seem then there is simply no basis for a relationship. The HGA by definition wants what is best for us, but our only reason for remaining in a relationship with someone we fundamentally do not trust is because we believe we cannot have or do not deserve anything better. Either we must work on understanding why we do that to ourselves, or we should find someone else who obviously has our best interests at heart. No experience proves more conclusively how much the HGA loves us than a mind-blowing synchronicity, leaving us in no doubt we are indeed at the very centre of the universe.
The HGA is a dualistic representation of the non-dual. What this definition brings to light is at once a potential problem but also that problem’s solution. The problem stems from the fact that the HGA is not the non-dual, but the solution lies in how the personification of the non-dual places the focus of the work not on an attainment of a goal but on the development of a relationship.
There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. (Crowley 1909: I, 41)
Crowley, Aleister (1909). Liber AL vel Legis. https://tinyurl.com/uusb5b3 (sacred-texts.com). Accessed November 2020.
MacGregor-Mathers, Samuel Liddell (1976). The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. Wellingborough: Thorsons.
Russell, Steve (2017). My grandfather said he saw the Angel of Mons. Beccles and Bungay Journal (27 June), https://tinyurl.com/y2bzrme7 (becclesandbungayjournal.co.uk). Accessed November 2020.
Two texts concerning encounters with non-terrestrial entities: the first, Anthony Peake’s The Hidden Universe: an Investigation into Non-Human Intelligences (2019); the second, the film series Hellier (Pfeiffer 2019). Both were created at around the same time, probably unknown to each other, but each confronts a similar mystery of non-human entities which, as Peake puts it:
all have one thing in common: they originally existed in the heavens, came down to earth, were defeated or banished by a controlling power, and ended up underground to occasionally enter this world through portals such as caves and sink-holes (Peake 2019: 44)
Both texts are initiated by personal encounters: in Peake’s case, his mother’s experience of something strange in the sky, followed by a bedroom encounter with an alien grey, even though such things were outside his mother’s cultural frame of reference; in the case of Hellier, unsolicited emails describing incursions of goblin-like greys upon a household in Kentucky.
In each instance, the ensuing narrative leads the protagonists and the reader or viewer into “high strangeness”: happenings so bizarre they transcend the usual categories of weirdness, so that phenomena such as ghosts, extraterrestrials, and psi are jumbled together in an inseparable melee of oddness.
What distinguishes these texts, however, is the trajectory the respective investigations take. Peake begins with shamanism, myth and magick, formulating an argument that reaches its conclusions in what is supposedly science. The Hellier team begin with a supposedly scientific, investigative approach, but are drawn ineluctably towards a conclusion in occultism. Along the way, both are confronted with questions about the nature of reality.
The Hellier team commence in that dire confusion typical of paranormal investigation teams. The first season is almost unbearable to watch, because of the faulty reasoning, their inability to distinguish between knowledge and experience. On their first visit to the town of Hellier they find it odd that so many people approach them with stories of strange happenings. When they return, months later, hardly anyone comes forward, yet this is taken as odd too. Is it really so improbable to have different experiences in the same place at different times?
To communicate with non-human entities the team employs “The Estes Method”, which involves relaying output from a ghostbox through powerful noise-cancelling headphones to a blindfolded human operator who then speaks out loud the messages he or she receives. Questions are addressed to the entity by the other participants and whatever is spoken by the human operator is taken as the response. Whereas typical ghostbox communications are vulnerable to different participants hearing different messages, the Estes Method limits the number of interpretations to one and creates a sense of dialoguing with an entity in real time.
This is taken a step further in a subsequent episode where the same set-up is employed with another member of the team donning a “god helmet” and engaging with the ghostbox operator in dialogue. A god helmet is an apparatus that stimulates the temporal lobes of the wearer with low intensity magnetic fields. In this sequence the helmeted team member, possibly in an altered state, reports multisensory communications from an extraterrestrial entity, which seem to correspond with the verbal utterances being relayed from the ghostbox operator.
But even as the paraphernalia of modern ghostbusting proliferates, the Hellier crew are converging on what amounts to an ancient method of spirit communication: spirit possession. They could have dispensed with all the technology and gained the same experience simply by calling out to the supposed entities, entering a trance state, and allowing whatever happens to happen. Indeed, the climactic scenes of Hellier amount to this: the team decide the phenomenon relates to the god Pan, so they perform a ritual in the caves to open a portal for Pan to re-enter the world. Their transformation from paranormal investigators into magicians seems complete.
The narrative strands of Hellier are manifold, and I will not enter into them here, but at the very end of the second series, after the somewhat anticlimactic results of the Pan ritual, further pointers seem offered by the phenomenon, two of them being: (1) a passage from The Book of the Law obtained by gematria: “the man and the name of thy house 418 the end of the hiding” (Crowley 1976: 38 [II: 78-9]); and (2) Crowley’s Star Sapphire ritual (1992: 36), obtained by gematria and through some striking synchronicities.
418 is the gematric value of Abrahadabra, which for Crowley means “The Great Work accomplished” (Crowley 2020: point iii). The number therefore symbolises enlightenment, awakening – although I suspect the Hellier crew might be thinking it is the street number of the house where Indrid Cold lives. (Long story…) The Star Sapphire ritual, meanwhile, is a sex-magickal invocation of the non-dual consciousness that forms the basis of spiritual awakening.
The Hellier team discuss the idea of performing the ritual, but no comment is made on its sexual aspect. Famously, in the sixteenth century John Dee and Edward Kelley made contact with angels and were instructed by them to arrange sexual intercourse on the same night with each other’s wives. The Hellier team are perhaps confronting discarnate beings with a similar intention of pointing them towards ritual sex as a means of gnosis. Jason Louv (regarding the case of Dee and Kelley) offers a rationale for this:
We know that sex and particularly possessiveness issues around sex are really tightly wound into the human ego and issues of territory and dominance […] The point of all of that is reproduction […] You need functional ego boundaries to take and defend territory in which children can be raised […] When you deal with sexual deconditioning you’re really hitting at the root of the personality […] It makes sense from the angelic perspective: they are trying to crack the centre of the human personality, but what often happens with these things is that what spiritual beings think human beings can handle they often can’t. (Kaminsky 2018: 51’10”)
Engaging in non-habitual sexual activity, then, can be used as a method for challenging ego boundaries and thereby entering non-dual awareness. If there is a third season of Hellier I doubt that these considerations will be pursued, and I am not recommending that they should (for the same reasons that Louv touches upon) but I imagine the trajectory into ritual and magick will continue, as it becomes clearer that (because it is discarnate and therefore without a material basis) the phenomenon cannot be subjected to scientific investigation – not that the Hellier team were ever really doing that anyway.
Peake, however, does not regard the immateriality of the entities as an obstacle to contemporary science. He traces encounters with non-human entities, or “egregorials”, through shamanism, religious myth, legends of faeries and djinn, the magick of Dee and Crowley, psychical experiments, ufology, and entheogens. By this point he has collected a bunch of odd but recurring motifs: beings originally from the heavens that for reasons unknown have retreated to dark, subterranean caves; that appear in forms often similar to or associated with reptiles or snakes; and with whom entheogens or trance states seem to offer a means of communication. Their motivation and ontological status remain uncertain, but they reappear so often and in so many contexts that it is too simple to dismiss them as fiction. Yet if they do not have material existence, then where are they? Referring to quantum mechanics and theories suggesting that material reality is some kind of simulation, Peake concludes:
If the physical world is, in fact, created purely from non-physical digital information then the existence of non-human intelligences existing outside the program is not so far-fetched. Our Egregorials are simply sentient programs in the same way that we are sentient programs. They just exist on a different level. (Peake 2019: 206)
Peake’s trajectory sends him on a reformulation of reality to accommodate discarnate entities. However, does the idea of the physical world as a simulation make sense? If an aspect of reality leads us to conclude reality is not real, what we were expecting to find? Peake seems perturbed by the suggestion “that physical reality is not actually solid in any real sense” (Peake 2019: 191). For him, apparently, if reality has characteristics somewhat like a computer program or a hologram then it becomes suspect. What seems more likely, however, is that his assumptions are unrealistic. A notion of reality as not real is an idea inherently confused and false.
On the one hand we have Peake, trying to find the entities by using science to reformulate reality; and on the other the Hellier crew, attempting communication by using magick to alter their perceptions. What both might be missing is an invitation implicit in the encounter to radically alter their conception of self. In Peake’s case, if reality indeed lacks substance and is like a hologram, then what would be the nature of human existence within that reality? In the case of the Hellier team, if it is not material creatures that their investigations yield, but meaningful synchronicities, are they noticing what effect this is having upon themselves?
The nature and motivation of the entities is implicit in these questions. They are not material creatures but symbols. They come down from the heavens and live in the underworld because that is where we must go to find them. They communicate through dreams, drugs, rituals, and trance because changing our consciousness is what they do. Describing them as “symbols” takes away none of their reality. To approach a symbol is to fall under its meaning and be affected by it.
The association of the entities with reptiles or serpents is related by Peake to an ayahuasca vision of Michael Harner: “The dragon-like entities informed him that they were inside all forms of life, including humans, who are but the receptacles and servants of these creatures” (Peake 2019: 166). This is perhaps taking a living symbol too literally, although it is understandable, given that it was apparently Harner’s first ever ayahuasca ritual, and at the time he was an anthropologist studying the perplexingly alien culture of the Conibo people in Peru.
Compare the conclusions Harner draws from his visionary encounter with reptilian entities to that of Carl Jung in The Red Book:
The serpent is the earthly essence of man of which he is not conscious. […I]t is the mystery that flows to him from the nourishing earth-mother. […] The serpent has the weight of the earth in itself, but also its changeability and germination from which everything that becomes emerges. It is always the serpent that causes man to become enslaved now to one, now to the other principle, so that it becomes error. […] The way of life writhes like the serpent from right to left and from left to right […] Thus the serpent is an adversary and a symbol of enmity, but also a wise bridge that connects right and left through longing, much needed by our life. (Jung 2009: 180-1)
My suggestion here is that we are not the slaves of the serpent (as Harner supposed), but only potentially so. We become slaves to these entities if we follow them into the earth, taking them literally. Earth is materiality, but it is also the site of germination, potential and growth. The myths inform us that these reptilian entities originally came from the stars, but they have a trickster aspect and can ruin us by leading us into confusion. Whereas Peake aims for the stars and tries to trace them back to their original home, the Hellier crew are led into the caves. However, as Jung suggests, we avoid confusion by recognising them as the living symbols that they are, enacting transformation upon us. Where they lead to wisdom it is because we have recognised that how they appear illuminates the nature of the reality that enables this.
Crowley, Aleister (1976). The Book of the Law. York Beach, ME: Weiser.
Crowley, Aleister (1992). The Book of Lies. https://tinyurl.com/y4a7b4qa (sacred-texts.com). Accessed September 2020.
Crowley, Aleister (2020). Liber Samekh. https://tinyurl.com/y5e6lj7w (sacred-texts.com). Accessed September 2020.
Jung, Carl Gustav (2009). The Red Book Liber Novus: A Reader’s Edition. New York: W.W. Norton.
Kaminsky, Greg (2018). Occult of personality: episode 191 – Jason Louv and John Dee’s empire of angels. https://tinyurl.com/y6qcamo4 (occultofpersonality.net). Accessed September 2020.
Peake, Anthony (2019). The Hidden Universe: An Investigation into Non-Human Intelligences. London: Watkins.
Pfeiffer, Karl, director (2019). Hellier. Planet Weird.