Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Art of Armadel, Theurgic Ascension and Sethian Gnosticism

We have already obliquely defined the art of Armadel as the art of disposition, and that such an art was dedicated to the acquiring and obtaining knowledge, wisdom, deep mystical insights and illumination - a kind of gnostic wisdom. We have also been able to determine how the magician would approach the grimoire and unlock its various sigil characters in order to obtain that knowledge. However, the biggest stumbling block to organizing the Grimoire of Armadel into a fully operational work is to organize, decipher and make sense out of the strange sub-chapters where the sigil characters are exhibited. In other words, we need to make thematic sense out of the two books, which are entitled as Book I, “Theosophy of Our Fathers”, and Book II, “Sacro-Mystic Theology of Our Fathers.” As they presently stand, there seems to be no pattern or structure to these two books.

A cursory glance at the sub-chapter headers for each of these books seems to only demonstrate a profound disorganized confusion and a seemingly obsessive focus on highly obscure biblical themes. What could possibly be gained from unlocking the sigil characters of Zaphkiel to have that spirit reveal the secrets of the lives of angels before the fall? One could acquire more insight by reading and studying Milton’s “Paradise Lost” than performing this operation. Even more absurd is the sigil character for Thaveal who reveals supposedly what transpired at the circumcision of Jesus at Nazareth. How do these operations aid the magician to obtain the coveted blessed state of illumination? This question goes unanswered, but it would seem that each of the sub-chapters would represent some kind of step or stage in the process of acquiring a god-like acquisition of the Spirit World and all that it contains.

As I have said previously, it is likely that the chaotic thematic nature of the books and sub-chapters would have to be exchanged for something that does make sense. I even proposed making use of certain Sethian Gnostic works that are near and dear to my heart, but before that can be done, I will need to determine the structure and operational use of these two books - to plumb their nature and function. Perhaps the only way to accomplish that task to is first step back from these two books and look at them in a more oblique manner.

Book I contains twenty-two sub-chapters, which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that the grimoire has an obvious Qabbalistic bias. Book II contains sixteen sub-chapters, so it would represent a more earth-based mixture of good and evil, light and darkness, since the number sixteen is analogous to the Divine Tetrad emanating into physical manifestation.

The first book could be compared to the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life as well as the Ten Sephiroth, which would accord some of the archangelic spirits a dual representation. The key to Book I is the occurrence of nine Hebrew letters thinly disguised as angelic spirits. One could assume that all of the sub-chapters in Book I are associated, either directly or indirectly, with the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life. When Qabbalists encounter the pathways in some work, they realize that this indicates some kind of implied spiritual ascension. To walk the pathways is synonymous with ascending the planes through transformative initiation, ultimately achieving full union with the Absolute Spirit - the One. So the thematic function of Book I is to provide a catalyst for union with the Deity, which is a form of theurgistic ascension.

If we carefully look over the twenty-two sub-chapters, we can see that there are eleven archangels, nine Hebrew letters and one Olympian spirit. Samael is listed twice, and the attributes of Haniel and Anael both refer to the Sephirah Netzach. The sub-chapter “Concerning Pythene - Abuses of Necromancy,” which is attributed to Samael, and the sub-chapter “Concerning the Nature of the Genii,” which is attributed to Anael, could both be swapped for two sub-chapters in the second book so that each of the attributes of the first book would be unique, refering to qualities that are not influenced by demonic spirits. For this reason, I would pull the sub-chapter “Concerning the Life of the Angels Before the Fall,” which is attributed to Zaphkiel, and the sub-chapter “Concerning the Creation of Angels,” which is attributed to Och, from the second book and put them into the first book, thus allowing all of the attributes to be unique. So we now have twenty-two unique attributes containing the first nine pathways, followed by eleven Sephiroth (Samael is now accorded to Daath) and two planetary Olympian spirits, which are Mars and the Sun.

With the all of the attributes determined, the twenty-two sub-chapters of the first book can be directly associated with the twenty-two paths of the Tree of Life, where the paths begin at the lowest level and ascend to the highest level. Since the first nine paths at the highest order are already determined, it’s only necessary to find attributes for the remaining thirteen paths. This was accomplished, but the results were less than satisfactory, since the top three Sephiroth were already fully allocated to the top nine pathways; less troublesome were the two planets, Mars and the Sun. However, the list of archangels, angels and planetary spirits can now be grouped in a logical order, beginning with the bottom most path (Thav) and ascending to the top (Aleph). I have determined the following list of spirits, but I would assume that others might come up with a slightly different list. (The two paths with an asterisk were taken from Book II.)

1. Caphael (Thav)
2. Michael (Shin)
*3. Och - Sun (Resh)
*4. Zaphkiel (Qoph)
5. Gabriel (Tzaddi)
6. Phaleg - Mars (Peh)
7. Samael (A’in)
8. Raphael (Samek)
9. Haniel (Nun)
10. Camael (Mim)
11. Uriel (Lamed)
12. Zadkiel (Kaph)
13. Thavael (Yod)
14. Tetehatia (Tet)
15. Hathatia (Chet)
16. Zainael (Zain)
17. Vau-Ael (Vav)
18. Hetael (Heh)
19. Dalate (Daleth)
20. Gimela (Gimmel)
21. Bethel (Beith)
22. Alepta (Aleph)

The second book contains sixteen sub-chapters, and looking over the spurious topics, it would seem that there are eight sub-chapters associated with diabolic themes, three associated with the Deity, three associated with humanity, and two miscellaneous topics (paths of wisdom and knowledge of good angels). As I have already said, sixteen sub-chapters are synonymous to the sixteen elementals. If we are able to attribute positive and negative qualities to these elementals, we would come up with eight negative and eight positive ones. This is done by making a relative determination that Fire and Air are positive, and Water and Earth are negative. That means that combining the elements using only positive to positive and negative to negative attributed elements will produce four combinations that are positive, and four that are negative. When combining a positive element with a negative element, if the top element is positive, then the resulting elemental will be positive; conversely, if the top element is negative, then the resulting elemental will be negative. Using this simple rule, four positive and four negative elementals will be produced - giving a total of eight positive and negative elementals. The following list should make my proposed structure quite clear.

1. Fire of Fire (pos.) - Cassiel (God universally One)
2. Air of Air (pos.) - Michael (God as Trinity)
*3. Water of Water (neg.) - Samael (Concerning Pythene)
4. Earth of Earth (neg.) - Lucifer, Belzebut, Astarot (Angelic Rebellion and Expulsion)
5. Fire of Air (pos.) - Gabriel (God as Preserver, Destroyer, Creator)
6. Air of Fire (pos.) - Spirits/Angels of Power, Joy and Love (Three Paths of Wisdom)
7. Water of Earth (neg.) - Hemostopile/Mephistopheles (Invisible Devils)
8. Earth of Water (neg.) - Brufor (Binding Devils)
9. Fire of Water (pos.) - Zadkiel, Sachiel (Knowing Good Angels)
10. Fire of Earth (pos.) - Phul, Gabriel (Life of Man)
11. Air of Water (pos.) - Ophiel (Regeneration of Adam)
12. Air of Earth (pos.) - Aratron (Destiny of Man)
13. Water of Fire (neg.) - Bethor (Devils and their lives)
14. Water of Air (neg.) - Asmode, Leviatan (Binding Devils)
*15. Earth of Fire (neg.) - Anael (Nature of the Genii)
16. Earth of Air (neg.) - Laune (Knowledge of Devils and Banishing them)

Notice that numbers three and fifteen were pulled from the first book.

I have now given a structure and an organization to the two books where little or none had existed previously. The names of the two books could also be considered spurious, so in my opinion, better names for them would look something like this:

Book I - Ascension of the Initiate Into the Heart of God,

Book II - Descent of Spirit into Light and Darkness - the Heart of Mankind.

These two names would be much more functionally useful, so I will use them instead of what was used in the original grimoire. Therefore, it would appear that the two books now have a completed theme and structure, which consists of a theurgistic ascension and then a descent, ostensibly, to redeem and regenerate the material world with the product of that ascension. This brings us to our next consideration, and that is elaborating on the specific themes for all of the sub-chapters, since what is listed and elucidated in the original grimoire seems quite superficial and even extraneous. I am proposing, of course, to institute a completely different theme altogether; yet one that will further and deepen the thematic structures already solidly determined.

Neoplatonism, Sethian Gnosticism and Cultic Ascension

Spiritual ascension, as determined by the practice of theurgy or religious rites, has many mythic and metaphysical exponents in the Western Mystery tradition, beginning with late classical times and continuing through the modern age. This is not a new spiritual perspective, by no means, and we can therefore pick and choose from any number of pagan, Christian, gnostic, Masonic, Rosicrucian, alchemical, occultic or even neopagan perspectives. However, the structures of the two books have determined at least that the basic foundation will be qualified by the Qabbalah, regardless of the system used. What may not be completely realized is that this underlying theme will allow us to choose something that hearkens back to the Neoplatonic roots that they all share. Still, if I am going to build a specific theme from a known tradition, I should state my reasons for doing so, and also apply that tradition to the existing underlying structure. That, of course, is my next objective. (I will keep in mind that everyone else is free to pick and choose their own source tradition to work with this grimoire.)

For the past several years I have been reading and studying the written works of an obscure Gnostic group called by scholars, Sethians or Barbeloites. They are called this because they believed that they represented a secret line from the third son of Adam, who was known as Seth. Whereas all of the people who considered themselves Jews could mythically claim to descend from this remote biblical ancestor, the Sethians believed that they represented an exclusive or rare lineage. Sethians also appeared to believe in a spiritual being whom they called Barbello, a feminine Spirit or Goddess like entity who, along with the ineffable and unnameable One, generated the host of entities who were collectively called the Pleroma (fullness). If you could imagine a Qabbalistic system consisting of the Sephiroth Kether through Hod, excluding Yesod and Malkuth, then that would be a good approximation of the Pleroma.

Was this lineage that the Sethians wrote about a secret blood line? No one appears to know - the last Sethians probably disappeared before the fall of Rome. Yet looking over their texts, they seemed to promote a secret teaching and represent an esoteric lineage of individuals, who happened to chose a specific biblical patriarch to mythically represent their cult, rather than a rare blood line. The Sethian cult probably emerged out of Alexandria, and it may have initially contained a splinter group of esoteric Jews, however their religious beliefs were based much more on a deep antinomian interpretation of Jewish religious beliefs and traditions, making them more like a counter movement. They seemed to have engaged in some form of baptism or ritual immersion, although whether that rite involved any kind of water is unknown - it may have been more like a cultic initiation. They also appear to have practiced forms of Neoplatonic theurgy and extensively used the philosophical constructs of emanationism, the three Hypostases, cultic ascension and salvation through spiritual wisdom (gnosis). The Sethians would have found the modern Qabbalah to be a system very close to their own doctrines and beliefs, since both drew heavily from the same Neoplatonic sources. Therefore, their writings should be capable of being interpreted and understood from a Qabbalistic perspective, which would server a dual purpose of determining the sub-chapters of the grimoire and defining the specific gnostic scriptures.

Perhaps in many ways, the Sethians seemed to mix, in a heterogeneous manner, pagan philosophy, gnostic and Jewish beliefs and practices. They were also reputed to engage in some kind of practical sex magick and erotic sacramentation, at least according to their Christian polemicists. I have found these ancient practitioners and their beliefs to be surprisingly very similar to my own, even though the context of my practices are rooted in a post-modern setting, and the Sethians existed in antiquity. I am a polytheist pagan, but also a monist (in the Neoplatonic definition of that term), who practices ritual magick and theurgy. Qabbalah and Angelogy are very much a part of my occult work, so what I do has elements of Jewish Neoplatonism blended into it.

Reading over the surviving books from the Nag Hamadi collection has shown me that the Sethians and their spiritual perspectives are very similar to my own. Therefore, I believe that two of their texts, the “Apocryphon of John” and the “Trimorphic Protenoia” would be quite suitable to act as the thematic basis for the two books in the Grimoire Armadel. I also believe that certain sections and text can be also taken from the “Three Stele of Seth” and the “Secret Gospel of the Egyptians.” The latter two documents are actually rituals; the Stele documents were used in a fragmented cultic ascension rite, and the Gospel of the Egyptians was a baptism/initiation rite.

I will select specific textual parts from these documents and use them to give a gnostic-pagan Qabbalistic theme to the Grimoire of Armadel. However, before I do that, I will need to carefully analyze, examine these four books, beginning with a general overview as well as highlighting those sections that are very pertinent to the work of the grimoire. We are looking for twenty-two sub-chapters that will be used to build a form of theurgistic ascension, and also sixteen sub-chapters that represent the descent into matter and the provenance of daimonic intermediaries of the Godhead. With these points in mind, and the internal qualifications of the twenty-two paths and the sixteen elementals, we have our work cut out for us. 

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Great post.

    The Sethian Gnostics were very much into magic and ascent mysticism similarly to the Jewish Merkabah mystics. Plotinus hints that they were. There are early Christian spells to seduce women and cause illness. There's also an interesting case where Paul casts a magical death curse! Yeah, that's actually in the Bible.

    Gnosis without magic is an anemic affair, IMO.

  2. Barabbas great job on this post. I had no idea you were into Gnosticism.