Goetia and Grimoiric Magic: Diverse Approaches
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
This essay explores various emerging perspectives on the art of grimoiric magic giving a generous reading to the major lines of inquiry and expression.
There has been a recent increase (if online forums and book publications are any indication) in the popularity of demonolatry, or the worship of Goetic demons. This is often, though not always, paired with the assertion that Goetic demons are actually Pagan gods that were literally demonized by Christians. There are cases where this idea seems to make sense, such as the demon Astaroth, and its fairly clear connection (as pointed out by Poke Runyon and others) to the goddess Astarte or perhaps Asherah. Other spirits seem to lack any such obvious connection, though some suggest they may still be chthonic spirits of the ancient underworld: the dead, heroes, demigods, daemons, oracles, etc. The general idea that spirits (cast as demons of the xtian grimoiric cosmology) may in fact be the gods, heroes, and spirits of times past is an enticing one. We might also reflect on how the word daemon meant simply spirit in classical cultures.
Let me begin by saying that I think it very likely that the various approaches of modern revival orders, traditional grimoiric, and more recent chthonic-goetic, and demonolatrous approaches are all potentially valid, effective, and even complete magickal systems (depending on the knowledge, creativity, and hard work of their proponents). There are probably a number of advantages and disadvantages to each approach. My intent is a broad examination of each. Generally speaking, the Solomonic grimoire approach emphasizes protection (circles and thwarting angels), and modern revival schools often employ (on top of this) invocation of the authority of the most high to command demons and sometimes even threaten and curse spirits. Demonoloary, on the other hand, tends to downplay or outright deny any purely evil associations, asserting that demons are merely the inhabitants of the ancient underworld. Another move made by some draws on Gnosticism, and allows that the grimoiric spirits are demons, but asserts that this makes them warriors for good fighting an evil demiurge. Both approaches seek to establish more respectful relationships with spirits than the command/curse approach seen in more Solomonic Grimoires that were all the rage in the modern era. One observation I’ve made is how these two different overarching approaches impact both the expectations and actual communications between magicians and the spirits they conjure. Practitioners of demonolatry (or those who employ less-aggressive grimoires like the Grimorum Verum) tend to discuss offerings, quid pro quo, contracts, gifts of blood and bodily fluids etc. Some tell anecdotes about spirits demanding: to be addressed by certain titles, respect and worship, or putting devotees through trials and initiations, and so on. This in all likelihood has specialized initiatory advantages, as well as the benefit of allowing for the establishment of the long-term relationships and communication that many demonolaters and GV magicians may value, while modern revival magicians might find all of this to be merely troublesome. One trade offs between these approaches is the Solomonic approach (supplemented with GD-style tech) may appear more straight forward and work to avoid obsession, but it may also prevent the establishment of real long-term relationships to spirits. It may in fact be that many of the reported experiences of demanding, deal making, and conniving on the part of demons have a great deal to do with the deep-mind priming that comes from the demonolatry approach and how it affects the assumptions and expectations of the practitioner. For example, if I plan to adore and humbly petition a spirit for something, this sets up a power dynamic whereby the daemon may be emboldened to respond by making demands and brokering deals. All of this might seem like an exhausting set of foreign complications to the modern revival or Solomonic practitioner. However, goetic magicians like Jake Stratton Kent assert that this is disrespectful, and prevents real relationships with spirits that are the gate to the most profound and powerful experiences.
Modern Mystery School methods and Preliminary Invocation In modern occult revival practice (think GD style magic), demons are summoned into a confining triangle do not actually see the magician, but rather the see the most high that the magician has invoked and put on (like clothing -see the assumption of god forms). The demon is therefore humbled, even terrified, because from its perspective it is speaking to the singular authority in the universe, and the only one who has the power to save its soul. This approach may well affect the psychological expectations and assumptions of the command-and-threaten style magician. A demon may test the situation and rise up momentarily (especially at its first calling) trying to make demands, but it is supposedly instantly thwarted by the supreme divine authority and archangels invoked, after which it becomes a humble servant, eager to use every resource at its disposal to rapidly fulfill the divine will of the adept. It isn't expected to look for loopholes in commands, propose deals, or require payment or offering. It is servile and subordinate in every way. It is easy to see why some would find this approach convenient. This doesn’t necessarily mean that such operators always demean or abuse demons, they are said to call them by the holy names, welcome them, thank them for appearing, command them, and give them license to depart, but they are also expected to speak with respect (HOGD Knowledge Lecture 4). It is also not unheard of for such a practitioner to ask forgiveness for using such strong conjurations (See Poke Runyon's Book of the Magick of Solomon). It seems that even modern revival Solomonic operators need not curse, torture, or revile spirits, and apparently in most cases need not fear that they will contrive to deceive us. But, there may reasons other than the convenience of commanding subservient spirits for using the command approach.
Preliminary Invocation and Initiation To invoke (in the modern revival sense of the word) is to bring into one’s self, to identify with, or become one with a deity. After this (as described above), from the perspective of the demon, it is being summoned and directed by the divine will. This is said to work because humanity is made in the imago dei, or the image of god. That is to say, we all have within us the divine spark.
It is in part because of this invocation/command dynamic (and how it brings us to reflection on our inner divine will) that Goetia can be categorized as a powerful initiatory system. Potent invocation provides direct experience with channeling the divine presence, leading to ecstatic experience with the subtle spheres and increasingly exalted states of consciousness, all while the magician is merely trying to get Buer to pay their bills. In this sense, it tips one tward advanced theurgic practice while one is trying to practice thaumaturgy or so called “low magic.” Regardless of intent, traditional Goetia results in initiatic experience. It also, provides for modern revival magicians training in Qabbalah, union by knowledge. Those who work from an ancient-goetic perspective, on the other hand, would likely object, and point out that spirits and deities of the ancient underworld make for more than adequate contact with divine power, and again remind us that thwarting gods and angels called upon to command those deities is an inherently disrespectful act, that damages the magician's relationship to the chthonic divine.
With Respect to Demon Titles
As demonolatry and the practice of less-authoritarian grimoires (eg. GV) have gained popularity, so have practices that recognize a hierarchy of demonic ranks. This can add drama to the experience, and for certain grimoiric systems use of the demonic hierarchy is is a necessity for summoning lower-ranked spirits, however in the Mathers/Crowley Lesser Key the titles are primarily for identifying the correct planetary sphere of the spirit to the end of furnishing the temple with qabbalistically corresponding sights, sounds, and smells, etc.
For example, in this approach, the demon rank “king” simply means that the particular spirit falls under the planetary influence of Sol for determining correspondences: we grab our tree of life and see Sol is attributed to the 6th sphere of Tiphereth or harmony. If we consult our handy Liber 777 for correspondences in row 6, we find the color gold, the herb cinnamon, the gods Apollo, Ra, Helios, etc. and so on. This tells us how to arrange the temple and what deities we may invoke to command the demon (if that's our approach). From this perspective, it's not necessarily the case that a king outranks a duke, but rather that it partakes of a different set of planetary correspondences.
As the magician works through these preparatory set-ups, they are learning the qabalistic correspondences of the tree of life, and they are also learning to alter their own consciousness in a controlled manner. For the ancient-chthonic/goetic practitioner, however, the Jewish Kabbalah is seen as an unrelated external system. Further, it is critiqued as an attempt to summarize and reduce the whole of several cultures' complex spiritual systems into 32 convenient bits (10 spheres and 22 paths), which is seen as disrespectful, and dismissive of the real complexity of traditional systems which can take a lifetime to actually learn. What's more, it is contended that the very impulse to compile and equate disparate systems of thought, spirituality, and philosophy does not do justice to any of them. This thinking questions the underlying logic and validity of the assumption that we can even have (or eve should want) a spiritual theory of everything that all systems fit neatly into. The idea is that this amounts to an oversimplification of the worlds' spiritual traditions -one that commits cultural appropriation and indiscriminately equates all sorts of unrelated information-all under the disrespectful assumption that all systems are essentially the same. This is seen as a denial of cultural diversity and the attempt to force all spiritual traditions into the categories of one systems' map -a kind of spiritual whitewashing.
On the Necessity of Trappings (Furnishings, magical tools, etc.)
One common hypothesis is that all of the traditional trappings (furniture, magical tools, circles, triangles, preliminary invocation of the divine, traditional conjurations and commanding demons) work because these items and activities act on the deep mind and serve to build intent over time and bring about significant alterations in the magician’s consciousness. Invocations and conjurations in this view are thought to contribute in real time to a trance state. This altered state of consciousness is thought to strongly enhance the clarity of scrying in the spirit vision, or in other words, ease of seeing and communicating with the spirit. Furthermore, for revivalist-qabalistic magicians, each sphere and path on the tree of life is like a position on a map of consciousness that represents a specific type of conscious experience. Such a magician is learning to navigate states of consciousness at will. This is not necessarily to say that demons are only parts of the magician’s psyche, or that this is the only way to effectively work with them. There may be advantages and disadvantages to any framework we select. In fact, if psychological explanation of magic are correct in their allegation that this is how magic always worked -even for medieval and ancient magicians who had never heard of these explanations- then there would seem to be no strong argument for their adoption, since it was clearly not necessary for magicians operating before the advent of modern psychology. Further, if we apply the tools bequeathed us by chaos magic theory (Spare, Carrol, Wilson, etc.) we may see some value in simply adopting the cosmology of the particular tradition we wish to work with, as chthonic/goetic and ATR practitioners do.
It may be that the steps of setting up the temple and preparing for an evocation sets up expectation, primes the psyche, and narrows focus to the point of concentration. If spirits/demons are objectively real, the preparations might also actually begin establishing contact very early on... a little like setting up an appointment at the dentist. It gets you on their calendar, so to speak.
One line of thinking is that all the furniture and tools can simply be constructed in an astral temple (read: in the imagination of the magician) if need be. This seems to work for a number of magicians (if they are to be believed), and may have the advantage that the magician is already operating in the spirit vision from the outset of the operation and can therefore much more readily and easily see and communicate with spirits. But, performing evocations with the body of light isn't the only variation from strict grimoiric adherence that has recent historical precedent.
In fact, while there may be decided advantages to a fairly strict single-grimoire practice, it seems that innovation and creativity have been common enough, especially in modern revival practice.
Mixing Systems (Enochian and Goetia)
One thing I’ve found myself pondering at intervals is Crowley’s rendering of a Goetic conjuration in Enochian.
This fascinates me because Enochian (from its own perspective) an angelic language understood by, and used to summon the Angels Dee and Kelly were in contact with. The idea that this supposedly-angelic language might be used to summon spirits entirely outside the Enochian system is interesting for a number of reasons.
From the perspective of many grimoires (and setting aside for a moment the probable pagan-deity origins of some Goetic spirits), Goetic spirits are portrayed by many grimoires as judeo-xtian demons. This raises the question of whether (from the perspectives of their own respective systems -Dee's and grimoiric) these demons might actually be offended by being called in an angelic language and also whether they can even understand it. Or, on the other hand, do they understand it perfectly well, because demons are ostensibly fallen angels? Or, could it be that spirits in general share enough in common that they can understand one another, or that there is little real difference between gods, angels, demons, spirits, etc.?
Perhaps the above concern is a triviality, and the real function of Enochian language is trance-induction; the magician mumbles long strings of indecipherable words (much like the so-called barbarous words of evocation) leading to altered states of consciousness. Or, is there some inherent magical potency in the Enochian/angelic language that makes summoning any kind of spirit with it easier?
Of course those who accept the idea of the tree of life as a universal filing system, unifying many spiritual systems, can leverage this idea a bit. In this view, there is but one universe, though with many different ways of looking at it, all unified in the tree of life. In this view it seems perfectly reasonable that spirits from one system can respond to language from another. If advocates of this thinking further apply psychological explanations for magic, they can argue that its all in our head anyway and so it doesn't really matter. One interpretation of the Emerald Table of Hermes is that above (perhaps heaven and its angels) and below (hell and its demons?) are one and the same. This may offer another way for to reconcile the idea of using angelic language with grimoiric demons. Other of course will argue that this is syncretism gone mad.
Crowley in the Desert Another episode in which the grimoiric and Enochian systems were mixed in a bizarre way featuring Choronzon (Crowley's guardian of the Abyss) was ACs fascinating set of operations with his student Victor Neuberg in the Algerian desert. If we are to believe Crowley, he was using the Enochian calls coupled with grimoiric temple arrangements (triangle and circle) to traverse the Abyss into the supernal Night of Pan, despite that not being a purpose that Dee and his angels would have ever imagined their calls being used for. But, Crowley was a highly creative magician who seemingly knew no limits. AC and Neuberg had just finished a homosexual Enochian rite on the previous night, when AC decided to do the next ritual on a mountain top in the desert. In what was either a move of sheer genius, or absolute insanity (depending who you ask), AC had Neuberg stand in the circle with a magical dagger and recite the call of the aethyr, while Crowley himself sat in the triangle (into which grimoiric demons are typically called) to serve as the material basis for the spirit's manifestation. In doing this Crowley was mixing grimoiric temple arrangements, Enochian calls, and intentional possession similar to that practiced in Voodoo. What happened next was the stuff of legend (or comedy depending on your perspective). In a scene reminiscent of when Don Juan was supposedly possessed by an evil witch and attacked his student Carlos Cansteneda, Crowley (ostensibly possessed by the demon Choronzon) managed to swipe aside the stones that marked off the triangle and circle and attack Victor, who had to defend himself with the magical dagger, and push Crowley back into the triangle of arte.
Toward A Neurological Mechanism of Action
A common question that I handle is: if demons aren't objectively real (and I don't know that they aren't), how might goetic evocations still work. One way to answer this question is to consider magic as an art that changes the world by changing the magician psychologically and behaviorally.
For example, if I need money for a dental bill, I might perform an evocation of the demon Buer, and task him with bringing me the money. This defines my will, and primes me unconsciously to be more aware of opportunities to obtain the additional funds.
I go about my daily routine, and without even noticing it, my behavior changes in subtle ways of which I am unaware. I may perhaps unconsciously smile and say hi to my boss more often. Maybe I send him an anniversary card, or joke with him a little longer at the next happy hour.
The next week my boss has the opportunity to advance one of his subordinates, and finds himself (for reasons even he can't explain) thinking more and more about me. I end up getting the promotion, and then I go home to summon and thank the demon Buer.
I'm not saying this is how it really works. But, if one were looking for a naturalistic psychological model, this one presents itself as workable. It also suggests that Magick of this type cannot bring about highly unlikely or unnatural effects. The only thing I would add is that it might make sense for certain practitioners to lean on the psychological explanation for some time, especially if they place a high value on skepticism and doubt. In this case the magician maintains the attitude of skepticism until direct experiences has eliminated it as a possibility. For it may be that the more direct experience one gains with grimoiric magic, the more difficult it becomes to hold a psychological explanation for its functioning. I leave you with this poem, I wrote around 2007 about a grimoiric magician in the midst of calling up a spirit. Enjoy.
Black Soul Mirror (Musick by Rick Wilder, Lyrics by Frater Praemonstro)
Alone and serene in the dark of the night The celebrant nears the altar Now is the moment that all things decide Whether Will shall succeed or falter
He speaks forth the prayer: perfume in the air He kindles the holy fire He readies the sword and binds with the chord The seal of his hearts pure desire
Raise the sword, speak the curse; Conjure, summon, call Evoke the lords in frenzy of verse Thy prayers the mind to enthrall
And if tonight, by divine birthright, You shall see phantasmal specter By Solomon’s seal, may it all things reveal And yield up its holy treasure
The hour has come
The body now numb
With the thrill of unearthly pleasure
The highest indwells
The air swarms and swells With sights and sounds beyond measure
Encircled with light
Scintillating and bright
There can be no more turning back
The word and the quill now make real
What was once but abstract
They search a world of vein fantasy
Lacking any substance or truth
Knowing no the sublime ecstasy
Having never witnessed the proof
They scour the astral
Future and past whirl
before the eye of the mind
They imagine they've found
A mystery profound
A mystery making them ever so blind