Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: Geosophia and Demonic Musings

Although I read the two volume book “Geosophia” written by Jake Stratton-Kent almost a year ago, I hadn't been able to fully resolve all my thoughts about the topic enough to warrant a proper book review. Recently, the last pieces of the puzzle have come into place, and my overall opinion of Goetic Magick has undergone an evolution over the last couple of years. When the book “True Grimoire” first came out, I held the opinion that one had to balance any kind of spiritual relationship with demons with that of the corresponding angel, and I felt that the True Grimoire had too great an emphasis on the demonic, with hardly any kind of corresponding work with angels. I saw this imbalance as a potential problem for anyone who would attempt to work with this grimoire, and even said that is was like giving a loaded gun to a child. Additionally, my biggest problem with the True Grimoire is that it stipulated that the goetic magician must make a kind of blood pact with the infernal ambassador Scirlin, and I considered this requirement as a barrier to ever working with such a grimoire. Still, things do have a way of changing and evolving if one is open minded and capable of growing.

The answer that I was seeking to unlock my own puzzle over the nature of good and evil was discovered in two parts, with the first being found in the book “Crossed Keys,” where it seemed that the results of the author’s ritual workings were highly influenced by his belief system, his intention and internalized values. What I realized (and actually already knew in a different manner) was that there couldn’t be a preconceived overall value system that would tie all magicians and their experiences about spirits into a unified and simplified spiritual classification. In order to truly understand and realize the nature of any given spirit, the magician must invoke that spirit and develop a relationship with it. I found that we couldn’t trust the written texts and lore of the old grimoires because we, as a culture and a people, had lost that kind of simple faith. For the post modern ritual magician, there is no generalized good and evil, since what is actually experienced is a combination of the magician’s present day beliefs, sentiments and intentions in regards to the magick that he or she performs. Where this becomes very complex and highly contextual is when spirits become the focus of a magician’s work.    

What I discovered essentially caused me to realize that the lore and descriptions about spirits, particularly demons, was based on a very antique and conservative Christian definition of the spiritual hierarchy. Since these sentiments are actually quite alien to my own spiritual beliefs, then I must be careful in accepting them, or in fact, I might consider rejecting them outright. What this does is put the entire spiritual value system that stipulates that angels are good and demons are evil as being both irrelevant and inconsistent with my own modern pagan based spiritual beliefs. Thus, the question of good and evil, in regards to morality and the supposed characteristics of spirits, becomes nothing more than a question of relativity. I think that I stated this concept quite well in my article posted nearly a year ago, entitled “Does Culture Influence Occultism and Spirituality?” (you can find that article here), and I believe that the answer to that question was a resounding affirmative. A quote from that article pretty much presents what I discovered at that time, and it allowed me to completely loosen the frame of reference that I had been using previously.

The question of good and evil therefore becomes a relative question instead of one that is steeped in universal principles. In order to intelligibly speak about demons, devils and spirits of the dead, we need to first define our own spiritual foundation, and based on that alone, establish our judgements on the nature of these spirits, their use in magick, and their overall spiritual characteristics.”

This first answer allowed me to completely re-evaluate the antique lore about demons and approach them not as a class of evil and malignant spirits, but as one of individual and independent spirits, each with its own personality and characteristics. It makes such a document as the “Pseudomonarchia Daemonum” written by Johann Weyer (1563) and other analogous or associated documents seem to be completely irrelevant for the modern practitioner. The problem with this whole methodology is that to make generalizations about classes of spirits is likely to be more erroneous than useful, especially if that classification system is as old and antique as many of the grimoires that dealt specifically with demons.

As a technological culture we rely on classifications to describe and categorize all material objects and phenomena. Science has taught us to rely on these classifications, since we continue to find them relevant and useful for ordering the natural world. However, when it comes to spiritual entities, we can no longer hold to rigid classifications, since what we are dealing with is wholly subjective and determinant on the personal perspective of the magician performing the invocation or evocation. Spiritual classifications are not based on any kind of objective reality, so they must be more malleable and mutable than scientific classifications if they are deemed to be useful at all. Ultimately, it is up the practicing magician to build up a hierarchy based on his or her personal observations when invoking spirits. In other words, a magician must build up the listing of characteristics of the spirits in his or her spiritual hierarchy based mostly on observation and personal experience. While it is useful to place a grid of symbolic correspondences over such a list, the ultimate determinant of any specific spirit’s character must be based on summoning and establishing a relationship with that spirit.

Despite this realization, I still found approaching the True Grimoire nearly impossible because I resisted the idea that anyone should make a blood pact with an infernal spirit, ambassador or not. I also found the whole concept of an infernal hierarchy influenced far too much by the antique and conservative Christianity underlying the spiritual faith associated with the old grimoires. I just didn’t buy into the gothic perspective of either demonolatry or engaging with supposed malefic spirits, so I felt that I couldn’t approach the True Grimoire on its own terms. That was where I had left things over a year ago when I had completed reading Jake’s two volume set. I saw the continuity that Jake had intended to create from the two volumes of Geosophia to the final product of those considerations, which is the True Grimoire. I agreed with all of Jake’s premises established in that work, but I couldn’t get beyond that barrier and find any kind of use for the demon based magical system of the True Grimoire. I had reached a kind of logger-head and couldn’t make any further progress.

One thing that I have researched over the months is that the whole concept of demons representing hostile, lowly and evil spirits is based on a more recent definition of the word daemons, particularly, the influence and perspectives of medieval Christianity. If we go back to the writings of Iamblichus, we will find no mention of cacodaemons or evil spirits. According to the writings of Iamblichus, daimons functioned as an intermediary between humans and the Gods. As intermediaries, they didn’t have any independent volition, but acted as agents for the will of the Gods. In fact, if we examine the general hierarchy of spirits that Iamblichus espoused, we will see that daimons were not, in fact, either infernal or lower than mankind. Here is what that hierarchy looked like. (See the book “Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus” by Gregory Shaw - Penn State Press - 1995)

1. Gods
2. Archangels
3. Angels
4. Daimons
5. Heroes (Demi-gods)
6. Archons (sub lunary)
7. Archons (material)
8. Human Souls
(See Shaw, p. 79)

It would seem that the daimons are actually functioning as intermediaries, just below the angelic hierarchical level, but far above the level of human souls. According to Iamblichus, daimons and heroes served as media connecting the extremes of human souls and Gods. The daimons, according to Iamblichus were analogous to the laws of nature, since they were instrumental in binding human souls to their bodies. The role of the heroes was what Shaw called “epistrophe,” aiding human souls (when they were ready) to be released from the bondage to their bodies and ascend to the Gods.

Additionally, it would seem that Iamblichus’ teacher, Porphyry espoused a de-sacralized cosmos, where the daimons were inferior to human souls, due to the simple fact that he believed that human souls were not bound to the human body. It would seem that the concept of daimons representing a lower level than humans, or even an infernal level (in Hell) was proposed by Porphyry and later adopted by early Christian theologians. Perhaps an earlier perspective of this philosophical definition of daimons can be found in the writings of Xenocrates, who became the leader of the Athenian Academe after its founder, Plato, passed away. I have gone over the historical progression of how daimons became synonymous with evil spirits in my article “Whence Cometh the Demons,” which you can find here. I would like to add that the body of lore about demonic spirits was taken up by many different hands, but that the whole basis of this hierarchy and its importance has its source in Greek philosophy and various sects and systems of antique occultism. 

Despite all of these various revelations, my opinion about working with demons hadn’t really changed. I believed that only a balanced working that involved both angels and demons would actually produce the safest results within a magical practice. This kept me from really apprizing the True Grimoire and being able to determine its value, since I was unwilling to undergo the first step of establishing a blood pact with the infernal ambassador, Scirlin. 

All that changed recently when the second part of the answer I was seeking came to me in the guise of a series of conversations between myself and my old friend, Lugh. My friend Lugh is a practitioner of the ATR systems of magick, and he is initiated into a number of cults and organizations, most notably for this article, Palo Mayombe. It was he who gave me the final answer that I had been pondering and searching for all these months. That answer was that all spirits, according to Palo teachings, are to be approached independently and that a kind of treaty is sought and achieved with that spirit. It requires a dialog and the establishment of a relationship, which can’t be accomplished in a single evocation.

What the practitioner does is to summon a spirit and communicate with it. He will then, perhaps over a period of time, find out the nature of that spirit, what it can do (and can’t do), and then when all of this is known, he will tell the spirit what he wants, and then ask that spirit what it wants in return. One doesn’t have to assume that the spirit will want the operator’s blood or some kind of irrevokable bond, instead the spirit might ask for something simple, perhaps some food and drink, or even a mere token. Each spirit is approached in this manner regardless of its classification or associated mythic lore, and so a respectful relationship is established with a kind of quid pro quo exchange.

This is what the Palo adherents call a treaty - it is not considered a pact as much as it is a sign of an important spiritual relationship. I found this answer to be both simple, direct and without any kind of bias or prejudice. Such an approach requires the magician to be respectful and seek a relationship with that spirit. He doesn’t command, coerce or bind the spirit to his will, nor does he perceive the spirit to be inferior or implicitly hostile. Some spirits will be harsh and angry, some will be benevolent and others will be neutral; but in any case, each spirit is perceived as a unique individual with its own specific characteristics. The revelation of those spiritual characteristics are completely subjective and relative to the spiritual perspective of the magician.

Therefore, if I seek to engage with the spirits of the True Grimoire, then I will have to approach them as unique individuals despite how they might be defined in any renaissance Christian based document. While it is assumed that the infernal ambassador called Scirlin requires a blood pact in order to engage with the rest of the demonic spirits, that requirement could be tested by simply establishing a relationship with Scirlin and finding out what it would want in return for access to the spiritual powers of the True Grimoire.

Perhaps the most important rule operating in this kind of work is to never make any assumptions, and that the magician should be strong enough to deal with any kind of challenge, including invoking spirits that might otherwise be either harsh or even hostile. In other words, I should take the directions associated with any grimoire with a grain of salt, and that what is written is going to be subjected to my beliefs and spiritual alignment. So this is the answer that would allow me to progress in my dealings with the True Grimoire, or any other grimoire that I might be interested in incorporating. The key to this work is that the magician must first access, engage and then establish a relationship with the target spirit, and then over time, determine the basis of a treaty. In forming a treaty, the magician need not do anything that he or she would feel uncomfortable with or would find out-of-bounds. This is a negotiation, and like all negotiations, some things can be required, while other things are kept out-of-bounds by both parties.

Now that I have crossed this threshold that was holding me back, I can understand how to properly approach Goetic magick and demonic spirits. I can also more adequately judge Jake Stratton-Kent’s work, from Geosophia to the True Grimoire. With that in mind, let me now present my review of the work Geosophia.

Review of Geosophia - Volumes 1 and 2

The two volumes have to be taken as two parts of one complete work. To attempt to review just one volume independently would be absurd. I have often found that some reviewers will take a multi-volume work and attempt to review just one of the parts, and this will produce a review that is both incomplete and erroneous. For this reason, I will treat these two books as one work, since they are integral and contiguous.

Geosophia is modeled on the mythic adventure of Jason and the Argonauts, but in the very beginning, the author defines this mythic adventure in a very different manner. This adventure is actually a shamanic underworld journey, and the boat called the Argo is the medium of making the passage into the underworld. While the journey has an interesting geographic element, the actual destination of Colchis is really in the dark underworld domain of spirits. The quest is for the Golden Fleece, which in reality is the Shaman’s healing and empowering aegis. It would seem that Jake has brilliantly taken a popular Greek myth and brought into the context of an ancient system of spirit shamanism. Yet that shamanism has its roots not in Greek culture, but in the older and more archaic cultures to the east, Thrace and Phrygia, where a form of eastern Mediterranean shamanism, goetic magic and necromantic mystery cults have their source and origin. This is also the source of the teachings of Pythagorus and mysteries of Orpheus. In some ways, the journey of the Argonauts (called by Jake, the Argonautica) not only seeks to enter into the domain of spirits, but it also recapitulates the journey that these systems of magic made from East to West in reverse, as if to seek the source both within the underworld as well as in the unknown eastern lands of Thrace.

I found this whole concept to be novel, fascinating and quite believable. While the combined two volumes make for a rather long reading regimen, the contents of the two books more than make up for the sheer volume of information presented. Amidst all of the details of this work, I found nothing either boring, redundant or irrelevant. Everything in this work is there for a very strategic purpose, and there is no digression whatsoever.

Some of the information covered by these two volumes brings together a seemingly diverse amount of classical material, whose relationship to goetic magic is only now revealed to be compelling and instructive. Jake covers the full spectrum of those mysterious Sibyls, and even presents a practical method for invoking one of them. He covers the geography of Hades and how it represents an underworld model accessible to ancient and modern mankind, accessible through the shamanic trance. Other topics covered are the various mystery cults in antiquity of the Necromanteia (divination via the heroic dead), the critical importance of Dionysus and Orpheus, Media as the personification of the Great Mother, and the hierosgamos and deification of Jason and Medea, where Media functions as a kind of magician’s scarlet woman. The homeward journey of the Argonauts is analogous to the Goetic magician bringing the powers of the spirit world into the mundane world, thereby revivifying it. To put greater context to all of these suppositions, the Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (PGM) is examined and key elements of that book are shown to contain the hidden and obscured practices of the goetic arts in antiquity. The later Picatrix and Sabean planetary and astrological magic demonstrates a continuity of these practices from late antiquity to the middle ages.

Some of the points that Jake makes in his two volume book are quite compelling and integral to an understanding of the continuity and relevancy of ancient goetic magic and the practices performed today by various individuals and traditions. These points are:

  • All Greek deities have a chthonic foundation and source-godhead attribute. It is as if to say that the Olympians all started out as underworld gods and only later assumed the status of heavenly deities.
  • Source for the Greek Mysteries is likely came from Thrace and Phrygia, and in fact, much of the religious, spiritual and mystical found in Greek culture has its source in that geographic locality. It is likely here that the foundation for goetic magic has its source, as part of the archaic system of eastern Mediterranean shamanism
  • Goetic magic later became a part of the practices of necromancy in ancient Greece, and spread from there to around the Mediterranean world. It would appear that there is a continuity in practices in regards to goetic magic, from the ancient world through the middle ages and on to the renaissance and to modern times.
So, it would seem that the premise presented by Jake Stratton-Kent, that Goetic magic is a Greek phenomenon with Thracian roots, is quite compelling. No one else that I am aware of has traced the history of this practice so accurately and pulled together so many fascinating elements into a seamless whole, as if they were once indeed part of a spiritual and magical tradition. I had written a criticism of this premise put forward by Jake in a previous article, and you can find it here. However, after reading over this two volume work, I would have to fully agree with this premise. While it might be true that Jewish occultists had their own perspective on demonic magick, and they may have contributed to some of the demonic names that are used today for these entities, the Jewish and Christian belief that human souls are superior to the infernal demons has done little to add to the practice of Goetic magick. In fact, one could say that it has unfortunately muddied the water considerably.

My only criticism of this two volume work is that there are no citations indicating the supporting premises that Jake has made throughout this work. I am fortunate because I have actually read most of the books that appear in the bibliography listed at the end of volume 2, so I have a pretty good idea as to the source material that would support these claims. I found myself nodding my head, saying to myself, that I had found this statement or that in some of the works that I have read in the past. However, this won’t help either the goetic practitioner or the erstwhile student who would like to delve deeper into the source material that Jake used to determine his thesis. 

Jake’s reason for omitting all of the citations is that it would interfere with the flow of his narrative, and perhaps he is correct in that judgement. Often scholarly works have so many footnotes, comments and citations that it does make the bottom of the page quite busy. It could be said that such books have so many citations that they could alone easily be made into an independent book. Still, it is my opinion that the lack of these citations unfortunately lessens the importance and value of this work. Perhaps a future edition might incorporate all of these missing citations, and that work would represent perhaps one of the greatest contributions to both scholarly research and the necessary lore for a comprehensive understanding of the history and evolution of Goetic Magick.

One of my earlier opinions, though, still stands, and that is I wish that the two volume Geosophia had been written and published before the True Grimoire. Looking at the True Grimoire in the context of Geosophia gives it greater value and continuity. That was something that Jake had promised, and he did indeed deliver. However, I would not have made such a fool of myself in my earlier comments about the True Grimoire had I been able to read Geosophia before I read the True Grimoire. It would seem that with my most recent revelations and having read the Geosophia, I will now have to re-read the True Grimoire, and perhaps I will discover a more practical and down to earth manner of harnessing its wisdom and power.

Finally, taking into account all of these considerations written above, I must declare that I recommend all three volumes of the Geosophia I & II, and the True Grimoire. All of these works are brilliantly written, researched and represent a possible new wave in the theory and practice of Goetic Magick. However, I would recommend starting with the Geosophia, and then when the contents of that monumental work are fully digested, to move on to reading the True Grimoire.

Frater Barrabbas

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Geosophia is an excellent work, though I too would have preferred a better way of referencing some of what he was discussing apart from "none at all."

    The Thracian and Phrygian cultures are related to one another (in fact, Thracian is often taken as the more overarching or encompassing of the two--just as the Bithynian culture was also Thracian, etc.), and I've been getting a great deal out of looking at Thrace in particular--it's a process I began before looking at Geosophia, but which was enhanced by having done so.

    The only major objection I have to any of Geosophia is the notion that the Chalybes are in any way related to the etymology of "Excalibur." This is most definitely not the case; the ultimate origin of the sword's name is in Irish myth, and Fergus mac Roích's sword Caladbolg, which then was transferred to Welsh and was said to be King Arthur's sword, Caledfwlch, which Geoffrey of Monmouth then Latinized in Historia Regum Britanniae as Caliburnus, and then we get Excalibur in Malory. It's a cute suggestion to derive it from the Chalybes, but ultimately and demonstrably untenable.