Friday, January 23, 2015

Question About Cultural Appropriation in Magick

Papa Midnite: You are a magpie of magic. A thief of tradition. You steal from other people's cultures and beliefs to suit your own purposes.
John Constantine: Oh, yeah? Well, whatever works, eh?
- from the TV Show: Constantine

There is still some buzz going around about how cultural appropriation is somehow despicable, reprehensible and exploitative. It’s gotten so bad that a recent blog author stopped teaching Yoga and discussed her reasons in detail. While I agree that there are plenty of ignorant people out there who are unable or unwilling to respect the sources of those various spiritual methods and techniques that have been dispersed via cultural diffusion, this should not stop individuals from engaging in them to their own betterment. You can find that blog article here.

We live in a consumer oriented culture and if someone can make money from an idea then they will do so. However we judge that kind of social transaction it does continually happen. We just don’t have to be crass or selfish about our use of it and instead respect the sources from which various methods and techniques have their origin. A case in point is the wide-spread use and appeal of Mindfulness meditation and yogic techniques which have helped millions of people to literally shed stress and anxiety from their minds and bodies.

Should this work be halted because the original ideas and techniques come from India and Asia, and are therefore a form of cultural appropriation? Now it is true that a specific author (Jon Kabbit-Zinn - “Full Catastrophe Living”) has developed and published this technique, but he produced it while studying eastern methods of meditation and yoga. People are paying hundreds of dollar to individuals who are certified instructors to take an eight-week course in Mindfulness. Is this cultural appropriation? Should it be considered completely unethical and therefore stopped? I am attending an eight week course right now and I certainly won’t quit because someone is making money off of this technique. So far the results have been remarkable, but I, my classmates and the instructor (who is an initiated Zen meditation teacher) have approached this whole process in a respectful and serious manner.

I think that this issue has been adequately addressed by a couple of websites, the Yoga Abode and The Times of India (article by Yogi Ashwini). However, the argument continues, seemingly unabated. (Even my fellow work associates from India are puzzled by this issue and reject it out of hand.)

Nothing is immune to modern influence - and indviduals' plentiful attempts to create so-called 'new' yoga styles is, in part, a reflection of the way yoga has succesfully [sic] changed to embrace modern expectations and lifestyles.”

From the point of view of yoga (which is my subject) let me assure all human kind that yoga is not the domain of a region. Yoga means a union with yourself (divinity unrealised). Yoga does not and cannot belong to an individual. Yoga is for a yogi and a yogi is beyond the scope of a religion or country.

I find this harsh judgement about cultural appropriation to be an extreme exaggeration aimed at somehow maintaining a higher ethic by being politically correct. There are situations where individuals and groups can be accused of actually stealing the techniques, practices and beliefs of a given culture or people without either permission or proper vetting. Yet these are very specific charges which shouldn’t be applied so loosely as to include practically everyone. This same charge couldn’t be applied to westerners who are using meditation systems devised in the East, in fact such a charge is completely erroneous. The diffusion of ideas is a process that goes back to paleolithic times and in antiquity there was an enormous traffic in ideas, beliefs and techniques that moved wherever goods and people happened to travel. This is no different today, in fact cultural diffusion has profoundly accelerated in the post-modern world.

The basis to this idea of wrongful expropriation, as it was explained to me, has its origin in the fact that appropriation (without citing the source) of ethnic artistic practices robs the indigenous artisans of money that they would otherwise gain if their work were promoted instead. This does make sense if the appropriation doesn’t cite the inspired source of that work, since it is often a situation where a white person who is culturally western can more readily be promoted than a (non-white) person who is from a different and non-western culture. However, my argument is that if the source is cited then wouldn’t that white western person be actually promoting an ethnic artistic technique which might otherwise remain obscure or unknown? And, if that technique became popular it might just enable those ethnic artisans to achieve a certain notoriety and popularity, and thereby a higher remuneration than they might have realized otherwise. A case in point is when rock music adapted Indian music and instruments to its songs in the late 1960's. No one in the West would have heard of Ravi Shankar (or for that matter, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi) had it not been for the Beetles publically promoting him.

This is a sticky issue in regards to all artistic endeavors since the production of cultural artifacts do indeed belong to the culture that produced them. The diffusion of ideas, on the other hand, is pretty tough to prove or enforce unless they are legally patented or can be legally proven to be owned. Yet even patents or ownership/authorship eventually run out or become part of the common domain. Ideas are readily swapped and exchanged between peoples, nations and cultures and it is likely that such diffusion will become ever more frequent and rapid as the information age matures. We live in an age of world music/media and an explosion of the appreciation of non-western and non-white cultures. I believe that it is a part of human nature to copy and appropriate things that we see and experience. However, some ideas and techniques have become part of our overall world cultural heritage. These are things that belong to no region or group, but do have an ultimate source that should be recognized and honored.

This brings me to the whole issue of appropriation in the area of the practice of magick. Yes, Papa Midnight is correct to accuse John Constantine (and therefore, indirectly, the rest of us western magicians) of being a “magpie of magic.” What isn’t stated and is also true is that the Voudon tradition was also a melange of African and European-Catholic beliefs and practices. The people of Western Africa could potentially accuse Voudon practitioners of expropriating their beliefs and practices, and in some way, so could the Catholic Church. That would make the character Papa Midnight into a magpie of magic himself, or a bit of a hypocrite. These various traditions are organic, which means that they are continuing to change, mutate and adapt to their environment. I believe that appropriation is part of that adaption process, and it affects all cultural systems to a lesser or greater degree.

In the practice of magick, we western magicians are the worst of all magpies of appropriation. However, I choose to call this process “adaptive diffusion” when it is ethical and esthetically elegant. Still, there are boundaries and limits to what can be freely appropriated.

Where do I draw the line? For me, the line is determined by a combination of esthetics and ethics. If I were to appropriate deities, beliefs, practices and techniques from a specific tradition or culture and not give them either the proper citation, vetting or respect then I could be considered unethical. If I were to combine different deities or cultural spiritual sources that were either inimical or incompatible then I would be creating something that is esthetically poor and inelegant. A poor combination of attributes or clashing cultural artifacts or a cumbersome structure will doom a ritual or ceremony. It could also cause some not-so-subtle repercussions as well. These are things that I believe we should avoid, of course, and everything else is just a matter of research and experimentation.

So why am I going on about this issue? Because I am a veritable magpie and a thief of other peoples’ magic. I have appropriated the Tridentine Mass rite for own my personal and magical use, and I have robbed the Golden Dawn and Crowley of much of their lore to act as the foundation for my own work. What I have now could be considered uniquely my own, but I know for a fact that I have used other people’s rituals and techniques to build it. I have also taken other methodologies and rites from various sources and have modified them to fit into the context of my own lore, such as the Abramelin and the Portae Lucis workings. I have shamelessly robbed and pilfered various evocations, sigils, characters and talismans from countless grimoires and original sources, and I have adapted my lore to the myriad authors’ books that I have read and studied. So, yes, I am a magpie and in fact I am proud of it.

It really means that my lore is dynamic, organic, constantly changing (and maturing, I hope) and also adapting to circumstances. I have truly made all of this lore my own, but the sources are from everyone else. Still, I did manage to invent some new things, and I am hoping that others will like these new ideas and shamelessly use them in their lore, too. 

As Constantine says, “Whatever works.” Yes, I am advocating that we magicians should behave like thieving magpies, it is only human to do so. Yet we should also be guided by some simple ethics and esthetics. Even thieves have principles and rules, at least the successful ones do.

Frater (Thieving Magpie) Barrabbas

Saturday, January 17, 2015

As the Light Dimmed in Egypt - Linking the PGM, Nag Hammadi and Stele of Jeu

The Roman province of Egypt was remarkable in the great confluence of cultures and ideas that managed to mix and merge together to formulate whole new perspectives. Yet it was also a place where native Egyptians found themselves demoted to third class citizens who were egregiously exploited, subjugated and crushed into unforgiving poverty and despair. While Rome extracted a massive grain harvest every year to feed itself (and its privileged allies in Alexandria) bread, the Egyptians who toiled on the land were oppressed by ever increasing taxes and punitive laws meant to enslave them. It was not a good time to be an Egyptian without also being a privileged Roman citizen. Few managed to achieve that distinguished privilege and the rest faced a hopeless and dwindling future.

There were occasional revolts against this excessive exploitation and subjugation, but these were cruelly put down, and each one only made the plight the native fellaheen more pitiful. It was during this time that the belief and worship of the old Egyptian gods lost their appeal with the common folk and a new religion began to quickly take their place, and that religion was Christianity. Like many other parts of the old world, Egypt fostered many varieties of Christianity and Greco-Roman syncretism.

Egypt had an ancient tradition of religious speculation, enabling a variety of controversial religious views to thrive there. Not only did Arianism flourish, but other doctrines, such as Gnosticism and Manichaeism, either native or imported, found many followers. Another religious development in Egypt was the monasticism of the Desert Fathers, who renounced the material world in order to live a life of poverty in devotion to the Church.

Egyptian Christians took up monasticism with such enthusiasm that the Emperor Valens had to restrict the number of men who could become monks. Egypt exported monasticism to the rest of the Christian world.”

Magic flourished in these lands at that time, and many Christians of different stripes practiced magic along with their liturgical rites. Perhaps the most interesting of all of the Egyptian stripes of Christianity were the Sethians, whose massive volume of books and mysterious initiatory teachings have come down to us in the present era as various selections of their peculiar writings and puzzling theological statements. We know something about them from their extent writings but not enough to fully understand their teachings and beliefs. Time has nearly ablated their memory, like the shifting sands of the Egyptian desert that have scoured the painted surfaces of statues and shrines leaving only traces of their past glories.

We know so little about the Egyptians living in the area around Thebes in the Greco-Roman period because the focus of the world at that time was on the city of Alexandria. However, from the period of around the 1st through the 4th century various scrolls and codices were buried in that location which were only discovered in the last two centuries. The largest collection of codices was discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945, a veritable library of forbidden books hidden in a sealed pot and buried next to a stone in an ancient monastic graveyard. However, other codices and scrolls were discovered in the same area around Thebes, such as the Bruce codex (containing the Books of Jeu) and the Greek Magical Papyri. All of these notable relics that have been intriguing scholars for decades as well as ordinary members of the reading public, and I might add, occultists and practitioners of magic, have been reconstructed, translated and published. All of these truly remarkable writings from antiquity were likely produced in this single location around Thebes during a period of three hundred years, and that is also quite remarkable.

Whether or not these writings represent the thoughts and beliefs of a single group of people, or the combined ideas and practices of an era participated by many individuals is unknown. We can speculate based on how they were written, in what language and the media (scroll or codex) of their presentation, and we can examine the content of the writings and notice the differences and similarities. Still, this is all speculation, but it is intriguing none-the-less.

We should also briefly examine the writing techniques of ancient Egypt and its history, since this will also assist us in assessing the historical context of these writings.

“As writing developed and became more widespread among the Egyptian people, simplified glyph forms developed, resulting in the hieratic (priestly) and demotic (popular) scripts. These variants were also more suited than hieroglyphs for use on papyrus. Hieroglyphic writing was not, however, eclipsed, but existed alongside the other forms, especially in monumental and other formal writing. The Rosetta Stone contains three parallel scripts – hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek.

Hieroglyphs continued to be used under Persian rule (intermittent in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE), and after Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt, during the ensuing Macedonian and Roman periods. It appears that the misleading quality of comments from Greek and Roman writers about hieroglyphs came about, at least in part, as a response to the changed political situation. Some believe that hieroglyphs may have functioned as a way to distinguish 'true Egyptians' from some of the foreign conquerors. Another reason may be the refusal to tackle a foreign culture on its own terms which characterized Greco-Roman approaches to Egyptian culture generally. Having learned that hieroglyphs were sacred writing, Greco-Roman authors imagined the complex but rational system as an allegorical, even magical, system transmitting secret, mystical knowledge.

By the 4th century, few Egyptians were capable of reading hieroglyphs, and the myth of allegorical hieroglyphs was ascendant. Monumental use of hieroglyphs ceased after the closing of all non-Christian temples in 391 CE by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I; the last known inscription is from Philae, known as The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, from 394 CE.”

If we consider the Nag Hammadi library, the Bruce codex and the Greek Magical Papyri as having a common geographic location, we can also order these collections according to their content and writing styles, based on an understanding of the history of writing in that area.

The Greek Magical Papyri was likely written earlier than the other books because it was a large scroll written in Greek and Demotic. Since there are some parts of this book that were written in Demotic we can assume that the ancient Egyptian language was still being spoken and written at that time. So, perhaps the time period when it was written might have been in the 3rd century when the old pagan religions and the new were coexistent. The magical spells show a decided heterodoxy of religious beliefs with an emphasis on Pagan Greek and Egyptian gods, but with other religious elements, such as Judaism, included. There is only a hint of Christian theology to be found in these spells, so it represents the collective work of someone whose sympathies were not particularly Christian.

We know nothing about the owner of this scroll, other than he seemed to be collecting every notable magical spell that could be found or discovered in that time period. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of his collection, it is likely that he was privileged and well traveled, perhaps even having a residence in Alexandria. Magic is the focus of this work, so we can’t really deduce the owner’s religious beliefs other than to state that he was obviously open to all religions and didn’t discriminate between them. This large scroll was probably buried with the mummified body of the owner along with other artifacts at an unknown site somewhere outside of Thebes. If there were any other burial possessions in that tomb, none has ever been either recognized or recovered. 

Then, probably a century or so later, the various codices of the Nag Hammadi and the Bruce codex were written and kept by individuals in the same general area. These books were written in Coptic, representing a change in linguistic status. While it is likely that these books were originally written in Greek, they were translated into Coptic which was becoming the liturgical language of Egyptian Christianity. Hieroglyphic writing, including hieratic and demotic, had been abandoned as too complex, but Greek was replaced with an alphabetized writing modified to fit the phonetics of the Egyptian language.

The primary religious focus of these books was Christian, but a form of Christianity that is both strange and unusual by today’s standards. Within many of these works are to be found the specific theological speculations of the Gnostic group known as the Sethians. While it is likely that these books were part of a monastic library, probably the Pachomian monastery at Chenobokion (modern al Qasr), it represents that the Christian monks were likely tainted by the beliefs and perhaps even the practices of Sethian Gnosticism. The fact that these books were buried represents a kind of intellectual purge, due to the edict of the archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, who in 367 CE decreed that all Christians reject illegitimate and secret books. He produced a list of 27 books that were to be considered the accepted books of Christianity, and these books are what later became part of the New Testament. However, the monks from this monastery (so far from Alexandria) revered these books and rather than burn them, they decided to bury them instead. So they carefully sealed these codices into a storage pot and buried them in a nearby cemetery with a proper marker, as if they had hoped to someday return and recover them.

It would seem that the location around Thebes was a veritable hotbed of Sethian Gnosticism and also the practice of magic. Because the Sethians taught that one needed to undergo a five-fold initiation ordeal in order to be considered a proper Christian, or “one who knows,” they had quite a body of magical lore to aid them in this task. They also practiced forms of practical magic and likely infected the early Coptic Christian church with the practice of using magical spells that archeologists have recently discovered written or inscribed on various artifacts. The Sethians probably were in the area for at least three centuries before disappearing, and they may have melded their beliefs with those of the local pagan magical practitioners, since they believed that magic was the key to escape the material world ruled by the cruel and ruthless archons.

In many ways the Sethian’s theological ideas would have been very popular in the oppressed area of upper Egypt because it seemed to explain their world in a mythopoetic manner. No longer was life on the Nile one that was good and abundant, so there wasn’t much desire to perpetuate this material circumstance in the afterlife. In fact life was cruel, brutal, poor and apparently lacked the blessings of the gods for the average Egyptian. It was no wonder that a theology of escape, release from bondage and deliverance from one’s evil oppressors was quite intoxicating and attractive. I believe that this is the reason why Egypt embraced Christianity so ardently, and why a tradition of Sethian Gnosticism was popular amongst the literate elite.

Now this brings me to the main point of my article, which is to see these supposedly unrelated events and artifacts as representing a common thread that should be quite profound when we consider it as such. What I am proposing is that the magic in the Greek Magical Papyri and the magic practiced by the Christian Sethians and Coptic Christians was analogous. They are not the same, of course, because they are separated by time, but not by locality. The writer of the Greek Magical Papyri was aware of Sethian practices and beliefs even though he might not have shared them. The Sethians were likely aware of some of the magical spells written in the Greek Magical Papyri as well.

Previously, I have never really paid much attention to the rubric or title for the ritual of the Invocation of the Bornless One because it seemed to be not particularly important. The title of this spell is the “Stele of Jeu, the hieroglyphicist.” The name Jeu seemed to be familiar to me, but I had thought that it might be a reference to a real individual who still had the skill of being able to read Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. It was pointed out to me that the name Jeu was actually a Gnostic pseudepigraphic author name that was used to lend legitimacy to a writing or a spell. However, since there is indeed a series of Books of Jeu that were particularly sacred to the Sethians (Bruce Codex), attributing the Bornless One Invocation to Jeu was analogous to attributing it to the Sethians. Also, assigning a writing to a stele was a way of making it a highly important work, because an actual stele was writing and illustrations painted or carved on a stone tablet making it something of a permanent edifice. Three of the more important works in the Nag Hammadi library are the three Stele of Seth, so one could assume that the Stele of Jeu would also be a monumental work.

What does all of this speculation and background information really mean? It means that the ubiquitous Invocation of the Bornless or Headless One was possibly an important rite in the Sethian creed. The headless one then becomes analogous to the theological construct of the Gnostic concept of Autogenes, the self-begotten one. Autogenes was the principle intermediary between the One as the Father-Spirit, and the Father-Mother as Ennoia-Barbelo, and the rest of humanity. Autogenes was part of a trinity that was loosely based on the Neoplatonic Noetic triad of Being, Life and Mind that act as an intermediary between the One and the psychic domain. Summoning this entity to perform an exorcism would make sense, and it would be part of the Sethian initiation process to purge the self of all spiritual influences and pollution associated with the archons.

So, this might be the context for the Bornless Invocation rite, that it functioned as an important tool in the Sethian repertoire to purify the soul and make it ready for transport beyond spheres of the archon ruled material world, where it might unite once again with the One Source of All Spirit. That we use this rite today in a similar manner is quite interesting and also ironic. All of this is pure speculation on my part, of course, and it could easily be refuted as spurious and erroneous. However, my approach does seem to pull together a lot of interesting pieces of the puzzle, and the final resultant context is rather elegant - at least I think so.

Over seventeen hundred years separate our world from that of the Egyptian Sethians and magicians of the early centuries of the common era. But we seem to be connected by the thread of a common interest and a common need for a fusion of magic and religion as well as authentic visionary experiences. That common thread might be the vaunted Perennial Philosophy, or perhaps it is the just the convoluted evolution of society and the never ending spiritual search for authentic spiritual experiences.   

Frater Barrabbas

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Age of Authenticity - Magical and Mystical Orders

Lately there has been some controversial discussions (led by Peregrin Wildoak) about whether or not the Golden Dawn is dead. That it actually died out in the late 40's and that current variations of this tradition are mere pretenders to the traditional heritage, which was established by the adepts who started and built up the order in the late 19th century. As I examined these articles and the associated comments I realized that what was really being discussed was the issue of legitimacy vs. authenticity.

Clearly, if one takes the position of legitimacy in regards to the Golden Dawn, none of the current adepts can claim to have a living charter dispensed to them from any of the previous legitimate GD orders. Peregrin is correct and accurate in his discussion about the present state of the Golden Dawn. Unless, of course, one of the chiefs can claim to have re-established a connection with the source adepts who apparently started this lineage, and I do believe that one of them can. However, that is besides the point, since such proof can’t be delivered to the public at large without profoundly violating one’s initiatory oaths of secrecy. We can at least recognize that Peregrin is correct in his assumptions overall. That is, if legitimacy is the only measure of an organization’s true value.

If someone or some group were to acquire all of the accouterments and lore of a specific religious, mystical, masonic or magical organization and then proclaim themselves to be a legitimate representative of that organization, the greater community would rightfully judge and declare them to be fraudulent. Taking this perspective to the absolute degree of validating legitimacy, the current and modern Golden Dawn can’t be confused with the Golden Dawn of the previous age. In fact it could be argued that the modern Golden Dawn has no real legitimacy and is therefore completely spurious. While they might share some lore and even objectives, they are not the same organization. It’s really that simple. It’s very much black and white! Or is it?

In the late 19th century, and into the middle of the 20th century, issues of spiritual and magical legitimacy were quite important. If you made claims about your magical or spiritual pedigrees then you better have something to back it up. Deceptive advertising and lying about legitimacy was grounds for a huge scandal and probably the complete dissolution of the said spurious organization. However, something started happening in the 20th century and it became a powerful force in the 1960's that changed the whole equation of spiritual and magical organizations. We entered a new age where legitimacy was trumped by authenticity. People wanted authentic spiritual and magical experiences. They weren’t concerned with valid pedigrees or vaunted legitimacy, they just wanted to experience the “real thing.”

There were some organizations still around by that time, but as Peregrin reported, many had gone dormant or were soon to do so. This didn’t stop people from forming new groups and organizations based on older and dormant institutions or even from crafting something entirely new. Despite being completely illegitimate and unable to claim any kind of historically valid lineage, these groups and organizations were and are successfully producing authentic experiences. If Peregrin was so correct that knock-offs and spurious groups couldn’t produce anything of any worth because they were illegitimate then these new organizations shouldn’t be able to do produce anything of value, but in fact they do. There must be something wrong with Peregrin’s logic and indeed, there is something wrong with it. We don’t live in an age where legitimacy is important any more. We live in an age of authenticity, and the rule of thumb is that if a group functions as it should and manages to produce authentic experiences then it is valid regardless of whether or not it is legitimate. Most if not nearly all Wiccan lineages are not legitimate because the tradition only goes back to the founder, and all founders were inveterate self-made eclectic seekers. Even so, there are many fine and excellent witches and exponents of witchcraft within these organizations. In fact, some of the best witches I know don’t come from any initiatory lineage whatsoever - they are fully self-made.

Perhaps one of the biggest self-made magicians of the 20th century was William Grey who didn’t belong to any organization, but still founded his own tradition of magic and occult spirituality. No one can dispute his contribution to Western Occultism, but he doesn’t belong to any specific tradition. He was not an initiate in the classic definition of the term, but he was clearly an adept at the end of his journey. How can we reconcile such a discrepancy? William Grey was authentic - he worked steadily at his craft for most of his lifetime. The end result was actually quite predictable. If anything else, this example is a simple matter of demonstrating how important authenticity has become over the last 50 years. Legitimacy is quaint and nice if you have it, but it is also highly irrelevant and unneeded in the present age. What is needed is more authenticity. Do you talk about magick (or seek to eliminate it by erroneously calling it “mysticism”) or do you practice it? Is it part of your heritage or is it part of your life as a living tradition? These are the relevant questions that we should focus on.

In the end it doesn’t really matter which group in the Golden Dawn represents a legitimate unbroken lineage or not. What matters is whether the lore, practices and operations actually succeed in generating real and lasting transformations in the adherents and practitioners. What matters most is what produces results - everything else is just superficial gloss.         

If you want to look at my previous articles on this issue, you can find them here, and here. I announced a few years back that we live in the Age of Authenticity and I still stand by that proclamation.

Frater Barrabbas

Friday, January 2, 2015

More Thoughts About the Bornless One and Other Stuff

It’s been nearly three months since I posted any kind of article to my blog, and some of you have probably been wondering what has happened to me. Well, I have been very busy doing other things and I haven’t had much opportunity to write. While I have successfully transitioned to my new role in my mundane job, it has also been very challenging and time consuming. I seem to have adopted the life-style of a shut-in person. I spend most of my day at the terminal, usually 8 to 10 hours straight with only a few breaks, spending all that time cooped up in my home office.

While I am working I occasionally notice the passing of the day outside my office window, but I have little time to go outside except to walk our dog. When I am done for the day my brain feels like Jell-O and my eyes are dry and I have problems focusing. About the only thing I am good for is to eat my dinner, mindlessly watch a bit of the Tube and then go to bed, exhausted. Weekends are typically for cleaning the house, shopping and spending some time with my wife. I don’t have a lot of time to visit with people and I usually forget to call or stay in touch with my friends. (I hope I still have some friends left when this cycle reaches its end.)

Right now there seems to be little time for writing or working magick, but I do try to read a bit before going to sleep. I have managed to read through a number of books, so at least I am continuing my research - that is unless I am indulging in some gratuitous fiction reading.  

This pattern of work and not much else has been going on for the last several months, but at least I can see that the pace will be slowing down in the near future - thankfully. My hope is that with the turning of the new year I will have more time for writing and working magick. At least I can boast that my wife and I have managed to put together a really great wedding ceremony and feast. We had some really important help from our friends, but it was our sole responsibility and it was quite a magical ordeal in its own right. I may have been unable to work any of my usual magical ordeals in the last couple of years, but the handfasting and feast were quite a magnificent magical working. We really needed to do nothing else than that to focus the transformative spiritual powers and bring them to bear on our lives. We feel quite bonded now and many of the issues that we had pondered about previously have now been swept aside. That alone should demonstrate to my readers that is was indeed a very magical and successful ordeal. It will be tough to top that for this year, but I’ll see what I can do.

My occult research and studies have been focusing on the writings of a very knowledgeable and brilliant German Professor of Egyptology by the name of Jan Assmann. His translated books on Egyptology and also, oddly, modern monotheism (and its price to the post-modern world) are all quite inspiring to me, although probably not in the way that Professor Assmann had in mind when he originally wrote these books. He is a contemporary scholar so I am not trying to read the writings of someone from the 19th or early 20th century whose scholarship is missing a century or more of archeological discoveries. Dr. Assmann’s writings are current and include a lot of the most up-to-date discoveries in the field of Egyptology. I will be discussing some of the things he has written in future articles since what he is saying about modern religious theology is also quite interesting and insightful.

While Dr. Assmann is a staunch Christian and has stated that the cost of monotheism was worth the benefits, his writings are helping me to determine what modern paganism should be like. Are we truly engaged in a primary earth-based religion or is our paganism a protest against Christianity and monotheism in general? Can we go back to the simpler times and mind-set of ancient paganism or do we have to come up with a completely different paradigm that takes 1,500 years of monotheistic religion into consideration? These are critical questions, and I am on the threshold of finally being able to answer some of them in a thorough and insightful manner.

Anyway, one of the points that caught my attention when I was reading the book “Of God and Gods: Egypt, Israel and the Rise of Monotheism” written by Jan Assmann (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008) was quite startling. Dr. Assmann compared the Egyptian mythological concept of “sep tepy” or “first time” to the first book in the Hebrew Bible, “berasheth” or Genesis. Seeing this comparison inspired me into thinking about the Bornless One all over again. Why would such a comparison bring that topic to mind? Because I had once written that I thought the famous ritual attributed to the Golden Dawn whose origin is a spell found in the Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (PGM V, lines 96 through 172 - Stele of Ieu the hieroglyphist) was correctly and aptly named. The Godhead that is invoked in that spell is called “Akephalos,” or the “Headless One” and somehow it got renamed to Bornless One.

The reason this happened was the simple fact that the word “headless” could also be considered a euphemism for a deity that had no origin, in other words, one that was bornless. Of course that could only be the case if the ancient Egyptian language used the same idiom as Hebrew, where the term “without a head” could be considered the same as “without a beginning.” The Hebrew word for head is “rosh,” and the first book in the Hebrew Bible about the creation of the world is called by the first word in that book, berasheth, or “in the beginning,” literally, “in the head.” Coincidently my thoughts about this term were similar to what Mathers in the Golden Dawn thought about the godhead named in this ritual, and that is how it got to be called the “Invocation of the Bornless One.” Others have pointed out the speciousness of this translation and its usage for this rite since there are indeed images of this god without a head on a number of Gnostic magical coins from verifiably ancient sources.

However, the comparison that Dr. Assmann made between “sep tepy” and “berasheth” intrigued me quite a bit. I managed to look up the Egyptian words for “sep tepy” and found that “tepy” does indeed mean “head.” It also means “chief” or “first,” but the hieroglyph is a man’s head. To the ancient Egyptians the term Sep Tepy represents the creation of the world from the watery abyss as performed by the creator god, who typically takes the form of Ra, Ptah or Atum. The God that creates the world would have to exist before the world was created in order to perform that feat. The First Time is a very hallowed event, and the age that immediately followed it was one where the gods, mankind and all of the flora and fauna lived together in peace. It was the golden age before the time of troubles when mankind rebelled against the gods and caused the world to be permanently separated into the sphere of humanity and the domain of the gods. The pharaonic king was the intermediary for the gods, and his court was the mechanism through which the gods ruled the earth and maintained contact (through their cultic centers) with humanity. One could say obliquely that the creator god was in fact without a beginning, bornless, or headless.

The invisible and unknowable headless deity called Akephalos that is summoned in the PGM exorcism rite has certain qualities that make this being an unmistakable amalgamation, similar to the contemporary Gnostic god Abraxas (the solar godhead whose name adds up to 365). He is said to be called “Osoronnophris” (Ausar un-nepher - Osiris the Blessed), but also compares him to “Iabes” and “Iapos” (probably corruptions of Bes and Apep). Only an amalgamation godhead would be able to reconcile opposed Egyptian deities such as Bes (the guardian) and the giant serpent Apep (personification of chaos and evil), not to mention also being associated with Osiris (fertility and resurrection) and the creative trinity of Ra, Ptah and Atum. The analogy to Apep might be an allusion to the Greek daimon Agathodaimon who was depicted as a giant serpent.

Akephalos is also associated with the primal creator godhead, and as such, represents the absolute spiritual master of everything in the material and spiritual worlds. This godhead would be the celebrated God who inaugurated the Sep Tepy or First Time according to the Egyptians, and he would also be the ultimate source of all being, perfectly representing the One of the Platonists without name or features. It would make sense that the erstwhile sorcerer of antiquity would call on this being to assist him in performing a grand exorcism. If you wish to eject an evil spirit from some person then it would make sense to summon the most powerful godhead available.

The odd epithet of this godhead which states that he has eyes in his feet seems to be a puzzle, but when you consider that the Headless God can be depicted as a serpent biting its tail then the mystery is revealed as a symbolic analogue. A serpent biting its tail would metaphorically have its eyes in its feet (tail). This symbol, called Ouroboros Ophis in Greek, represents the eternal cycle of self-creation and also primordial union, which would be a perfect emblem of the Headless or Bornless Godhead. This is also true of the phrase “my name is a heart encircled by a serpent,” which could symbolize the Sun in its eternal cycle, or that the core of one’s being is forever regenerated.

While the original spell in the PGM was a basic operation of summoning the absolute deity to perform an extremely powerful exorcism, the layered symbology of this being has taken on other qualities since that time. At around the same time that Europe and the Middle East was in the midst of a profound collapse and the beginning of the dark ages (7th Century CE), India was fashioning a new philosophy, beginning with the Mahayana Buddhists (the two truths doctrine) and continuing with the Hindu Vendantaists. Both groups postulated that the ultimate reality was non-dual, and in order to rectify the obvious duality of God (absolute) and immortal human spirit (relative) without completely negating one or the other, they simply stated that there was no duality. The ultimate Cosmic One was synonymous with the inherent union within all human beings. In Vendanta this concept was stated succinctly as there is no difference between Brahman and Atman, in other words, there is no difference between the absolute Godhead and the individual Godhead - they were one and the same. This new philosophical perspective took the Neoplatonist creed to its highest and ultimate level and resolved the inherent dualism found within it. If we consider then that the highest aspect of deity is the same as the deity within each and everyone of us then the Headless or Bornless deity becomes an analogue for our own internal godhead. We therefore invoke the Bornless One (or Headless One) that is within us in order to realize the highest expression of our beings - the non-dual godhead within us.

Magicians throughout the ages have always taken the liturgies and magical rites of the past and crafted new rites and magical lore from them. It seems to be almost the rule rather than the exception. We are shameless plagiarists and appropriators, and what we use as modern lore is often a mishmash of ancient and modern practices and beliefs. This also seems to be the case for the spells of the PGM that incorporated religious sources from a wide variety of religious cultures that were alive and accessible in late antiquity. We are no different today in regards to using all kinds of diverse sources for our magical rites and lore than the magicians and sorcerers in antiquity, and perhaps this is what unites us with them. Thus the ancient exorcism rite of the Stele of Ieu the hieroglyphist has become the epitome of one of the most powerful rituals in the arsenal of Western Magick used to realize and manifest the Bornless One or Higher Self within oneself.

Frater Barrabbas

BTW - I would like to thank Jake Stratton-Kent for writing his book “The Headless One” which I found very informative and helpful, and also my friend Jack Flash Von Faustus for his blog writings and the document that he pointed me towards, written from a lecture given by Morton Smith on PGM: Demons of Magick. You can find that lecture write-up here. I might add that Morton’s take on the Headless Godhead was quite interesting, stating that it was a possible personification of the flat “headless” land of Egypt itself and this would also lend it to being compared to the Egyptian fertility god Osiris. Although I must also state that the land mass of Egypt has been carved by the Nile for untold ages, making it anything but flat or for that matter, headless. You can also look over my previous article about the Bornless One that I wrote back in 2009.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Witchcraft and Evocation Simplified

Spirit Conjuring and the Legendary Witches

It is a long tradition in the annals and legends of witchcraft that witches performed magic through the agency of demons, fairies and lesser spirits, such as elementals, fetches (created spirits), nature spirits, ancestors (both spiritual and actual), spirits of the dead and various other supernatural servitors. They had a familiar spirit that assisted them in these efforts, but much of their work involved engaging and conjuring spirits in some manner to perform some kind of special or mundane task. The greatest of the legendary witches seemed to work mostly from a spirit model of magick.

The other kinds of workings that some (but not all) performed were various types of spell-craft, such as healing, curses, jinxes, finding lost things or buried treasure, acquiring or returning lovers, getting justice, etc., which required the kind of thaumaturgical magic that hoodoo root doctors today would readily recognize. Pagan religion wasn’t much of a concern or a factor for these lone or family-based practitioners, although they might indulge in calling antique deities along with their collection of other spirits, which could consist of popular Roman pagan gods and goddesses, Christian aspects of Deity, apostles, saints, angels, or even demons. They could employ psalms from the bible or other kinds of appropriated religious texts or use church sanctioned items, such as holy water or consecrated oil (chrism) or even hosts. These workings might also sometimes include various other tropes of the spiritual left hand path including calling upon the Devil himself. Whatever worked for a given task could be employed, and traditional witches seemed not to bother differentiating between Pagan, Christian, Jewish, or Diabolical elements. They seemed immune to any kind of sectarian bias and were, in a word, nearly animistic in their practices. So much has changed in our world since those early days.

Whether witches practiced “white” or “black” magic seemed to be determined by the goal they were pursuing, either for themselves or at the behest of a paying client. Witchcraft has always been the practice of illegal and unsanctioned magic seemingly appropriated from the religious rituals of the group for the benefit of the individual, and it has assumed a kind of grey undefined area between malefic and beneficial works. The status of the legendary witch was also quite ambiguous, which would be a natural outcome associated with anyone who was capable of doing both good and evil. 

In the present times this legendary Witch and her work seems far removed from the kind of magic that Witches perform today, if indeed they perform any kind of magic at all. Believe it or not, there is a movement out there that seeks to completely erase magical practices from the workings, rites and ceremonies of Modern Witchcraft. This movement seems benignly motivated to create a legitimate and friendly pagan religion that is acceptable to all other mainstream religions and creeds.

I have said previously that I find this disturbing because it does considerable damage to the whole concept of Witchcraft. After all, isn’t the practice of magic the “craft” part of Witchcraft? Take away the magic and all its lore from the traditional witch and all you have left is some kind of modern pagan revisionist religion that is harmless, banal and also, I might add, incredibly dull. In fact, I would go so far as to say that without the magical spells and spirit conjuring there is no “craft” dimension to witchcraft whatsoever. We might as well call it that peaceful, hippie inspired, nature-religion “Wicca” instead of using the word “Witchcraft,” and that is also a change that some practitioners are heartily promoting.

Some have called for the “re-wilding” of the Craft and others have called for a darker form of Witchcraft to replace the apparently castrated and “fluffy” popular version of Wicca. Even the British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW) has apparently succumbed to mediocrity and denied the importance of the legendary witchcraft and its focus on spirit conjuring, spirit-world traveling and poisonous root work. Others have promoted various forms of hoodoo or thaumaturgy, which I would surely find more useful that religious Wicca but not as challenging as conjuring. It would seem that if a person calls herself a Witch and thereby embraces all that such a role implies then it would be important for her to master the art of spirit conjuring at the very least. My argument is that Witchcraft, as a magical religion with an emphasis on the word “craft” consisting of forms of lower and higher ritual magick, should be the basis for a modern practice of Witchcraft. Taking that argument to heart should inspire a practicing Witch to engage in all of the tropes and fetishes of the legendary Witch. We don’t need to make Witchcraft darker or wilder. We just need to be faithful to the concept of Witchcraft as established by the legends of the Witches.

As a mechanism or adjunct to the “wilding” of Witchcraft, some writers have stated that goetic conjuring should be a part of the Witches repertoire. I agree, but I believe that it should be only a part of an overall methodology for entering the world of spirit as well as trafficking with the spirits of ancestors, the unsettled or heroic dead, chthonic deities (all deities have a chthonic aspect or root), elementals, deep earth spirits and demons. A Witch following the path of traditional Witchcraft would learn to master the ability of entering into the underworld or spirit world and also have the ability to conjure the spirits of that domain into the domain of the living, which is the whole point of evocation.

The magic associated with this ability to spirit travel and conjure was known in the Greek speaking world of antiquity as the magic of the “goes,” hence the title of goetic magic that is based on the practitioner or “goes.” (The term “goes,” as I have stated in previous articles, represents the keening and moaning intonations that the witch would use to summon spirits or enter into that stygian world. It is a quasi shamanic technique that has modern precedents, as we shall see.) From my perspective then, the arts of spirit travel, conjuring and the acquisition of a familiar spirit are the repertoire of the traditional Witch. These, and other practices, are the “craft” part of Witchcraft and they are still valid and available for the modern adherent of religious Witchcraft or Wicca.   

However, approaching spirit conjuring requires some source materials and knowledge that won’t be found in any of the books on Wicca (or the standard Book of Shadows, for that matter), unless one digs very deep and comes up with a long out-of-print copy of “Mastering Witchcraft” by Paul Huson. A Witch who aspires to master conjuring spirits can either adopt the whole of the Golden Dawn or Grimoire based ceremonial magick corpus or she can use the tools that she has at hand with a few minor additions. (Allow me to illustrate what those minor additions might consist of for an erstwhile Witch following the path of the legendary Witches.)

I have decided to write this article to provide any Witch who wants to learn the art of conjuring all the necessary tools needed to accomplish that end, and these are readily at hand. She doesn’t have to invest in all of the books and materials required to become a ceremonial magician in order to master this technique. As I have explained in my previous articles, there is a distinct difference between what I call ceremonial magick and pagan-based ritual magick. They are quite different and that difference is based on the concept of immersion vs. isolation.

A ceremonial magician seeks to control and isolate the evocation of spirits so his magic circle functions as a barrier and place of protection. The reason for this isolation is that the ceremonial magician considers any direct contact with spirits to be dangerous and morally contaminating. The goetic triangle placed outside of the protective circle that he uses is to be the focus for the spirit evocation. However, the witch has a completely different model for her work.

The magic circle that she erects is not to protect her from spirits but to establish a boundary between the sacred inner world of spirits and deities and the outer world of the profane. It is a completely different kind of mechanism that causes the Witch practitioner to be exposed to all of the magical workings performed within that magic circle. That would include anyone else who happens to be in that circle when such rites are performed. The erection of a boundary in modern Witchcraft is analogous to ancient Pagan temples or sacred sites having a specific (and sometimes marked) boundary to designate the border between the sacred and profane worlds. The only difference between them is the permanence of the ancient Pagan temple precincts and the temporary nature of the Witch’s magic circle erected wherever needed.

This is the magical process that I have called immersion as set down in several of my previous writings, since the Witch is exposed to everything performed within her magic circle. The only protection that she has at her disposal to control and focus the working is the power of her familiar spirit and her own iron-like will. In the modern world of Witchcraft the familiar spirit is expanded and augmented to include the assumption of a personal Godhead, which represents her higher self and spiritual genius. This powerful godhead assumption is the core of both the witch’s religious work as well as the primary state in which she will perform all higher forms of magic, be they a form of energy work, the conjuring of spirits, or both.

The foundational state that is the precursor to all of these kinds of magical workings consists of the various levels of trance states and through them, the assumption of godhead. Modern Wicca, especially in the BTW, reserves the prerogative of the Drawing Down rite to the chief celebrant, whether that is the High Priestess (represented by the Moon) or the High Priest (symbolized by the Sun or Horned God). However, in Modern magical-based Witchcraft, this rite becomes the necessary step for any kind of magical operation, particularly higher forms of ritual magick such as spirit conjuring. The godhead assumption functions pretty much the same as the acquisition and deployment of a familiar spirit in antique forms of witchcraft. In order to assume one’s God/dess Within, a powerful trance state must be adopted. These two mechanisms represent a single seamless process in the arsenal of the Witch, and it is the most important tool that any Witch worth her salt has mastered and perfected.

Trance levels as adopted by the witch can graduate from mild to extreme, depending on what kind of operation is to be performed. Trance can be induced by any number of traditional or ad hoc methodologies, based on one’s inclination and personal preferences. However, breath-control, intoning with vocalized humming, visual focal locking, repetitive bodily movement, the ingesting of ethnogens, calling or keening wails, barbarous words of summoning can be used to facilitate different trance states. Trance is also employed for spirit travel, divination, spirit conjuring and also for godhead assumption.

A deep trance is used for oracular communication with the Gods, spirits or to facilitate spirit travel into their domains, but a mild trance is the basic operating state in which most workings are performed. This is because a truly deep trance is temporarily debilitating and makes performing even a simple operation very difficult. Even so, the first time that a Witch attempts to undergo a godhead assumption the associated trance state should be as extreme as possible. It is also assumed that such a first encounter would necessitate assistants, helpers or a teacher to orchestrate and guide the process. Once such a powerful trance state and assumption have been performed then the Witch should be able to develop a method of readily assuming her Godhead in a more milder trance state. When required, a Witch can easily shift from the mild trance to a deep trance and bring forward to consciousness the full embodiment of the Godhead to bear on any magical event or occurrence.

A personal Godhead is nothing more than a personalized aspect of a Pagan Deity that appeals to the practicing Witch and through which she identifies herself. While this entity might not seem to be analogous to the spirit familiar that the legendary witches sought to acquire, I believe that it does fit many of the functions and attributes associated with such an entity. Ancient sources specified that familiar spirits could take multiple forms including that of animals, and that they were considered to be either demons (malefic) or fairies (good). However, the purpose of a familiar spirit was to bridge the worlds of mankind and the worlds of spirit and thereby act as an aid and a guide to the witch in mastering both worlds. I believe that the personalized deity (as a basis for the higher self) succinctly answers this requirement. Modern witches have delegated the familiar to being a specific pet owned by them. Yet without the magical agency of bridging the spirit and material worlds such a delegation is both misleading and probably specious.

Being able to assume a Godhead completely and thoroughly (although briefly) should be considered a basic staple for any practicing Witch regardless of whether or not she intends to perform any kind of higher forms of ritual magick. There is nothing so profound and empowering as engaging with the rituals and ceremonies while under the trance induced influence of one’s personal Godhead. Trance possession by a Deity is also an important protection as well as an empowerment for the practicing Witch, since the inclusive nature of the magic circle gives her no real spiritual protection other than her own will-power. 

I have recently written an article that details my opinions and perspectives about the nature and importance of godhead assumption and how it plays an important role in the development of a Witchcraft-based form of ritual magick. For those who might have missed this article, I would recommend that they read it and also study the underlying articles that it references. I believe that this rite is a critically important part of the practice of Modern Witchcraft and that a proficiency in the performance of this rite marks the difference between the adherent of a strictly religionist Wicca and the follower of the Witchcraft path. You can find that article here.

Spirit Conjuring - Five Easy Steps

Now that we have covered all of the basic elements that a modern Witch would need in order to be able to perform a spirit conjuration, we can now go over a simple mechanism for spirit conjuration. What I am proposing here is to use a method that is the simplest and most efficient in regards to making use of the techniques and materials that a modern Witch would have at her disposal. (This technique is not the one that I use myself, which is much more elaborate, but it is one that I used in the past and have therefore fully vetted.)

As for magical tools, a Witch would have a consecrated weapon (an athame) and the use of a secluded space in which to perform this working. Those are the primary requirements that a Witch needs to perform a conjuration. Some other basic tools would be cups for lustral water (salt water) and liquid offerings (wine or ale), a pentacle for solid offerings (salt, bread or other food), an incense burner and incense, lamps or candles, a consecrated pointing stick or wand, and optionally, a consecrated sword. An ink pen and some parchment would also be useful. Most modern Witches would either have all of these materials or would be able to easily acquire them, and whatever is used for her craft should be kept apart from mundane tools and implements. Any other accouterments would be considered helpful but not essential to the work. Of course, the most important mechanism is the familiar spirit or preliminary godhead assumption and all of the associated intimate relations between the Witch and her personal Deity, and the ability to assume various levels of trance whenever required.

The five basic steps used for conjuration are based on the age-old, classical method of spirit conjuring, although one or two might not be always necessary or even needed. These steps are, in sequential order, consecration (preparation), invocation, binding, constraining and then releasing. The binding and constraining might not be necessary, depending on whether the target spirit is either emotionally hot or cold. If the spirit is hot, then it can be engaged to perform aggressive or hostile actions for the benefit of the practitioner or her client. Such a spirit might need to be bound and constrained, but even a simple invocation has some degree of binding and constraining simply because the practitioner is calling and summoning that spirit to appear in a focused manner. A spirit that is considered cold is one that is essentially benevolent (or neutral) and doesn’t require any kind of overt binding. Often binding is symbolically performed through the use of magical cords and the actual tying of knots (ligature), but that is a symbolic prop that can be just as readily performed using the power of the will and sharply focusing the intent. Whatever actions the Witch performs within her magic circle are also backed up by the personal Deity that she is operating through. Pragmatism is the actual rule here, that and one’s personal predilections, so determining what works requires a fair amount of experimentation and the use of one’s imagination.

The most important part of these five steps is the consecration and preparation stage. The more effort and time that is put into the preparation for the working will naturally result in a more powerful and successful outcome. This also includes the most important research into the nature of the target spirit and its associated symbology. A Witch conjurer must establish a deep and intimate connection with the target spirit beforehand or the attempt to conjure it will undoubtedly fail. The primary key to invoking a spirit is to know its name. There are many ways of determining the name of a spirit, but it is strategically important to know the name (and the proper spelling) in order to perform a successful conjuring rite.

This brings me to an important consideration. Some writers have stated that all that is required in order to master the art of spirit conjuration, and particularly the conjuration of demons, is to select one of the more reputable grimoires and to use it singularly and consistently. While I would admit that such a practice would produce the desired results, the problem that I have with this approach is that nearly all grimoires have a particular Christian bias in regards to depicting and characterizing angels and demons, and also the kind of dialogue associated with their invocation and the overall methodology for conjuring. There is either an attitude of hostility and suspicion towards demonic spirits (or any kind of spirit) or an avowed inclination towards aligning oneself with infernal or satanic godheads. Either perspective is decidedly Christian and completely at odds with the traditional Witch conjuror who would judge spirits based on actual contact and prolonged experience.

While there might be various elements in the old grimoires that a Witch might find useful or aesthetically pleasing, she must be careful not to accept the underlying Christian metaphysical universe as well. This is the reason why I elect to “cherry pick” useful elements from the old grimoires, but I reject using them as they currently exist because they fail to agree with my pagan spiritual perspectives.

I believe that the best approach is to shed the whole Christian perspective and approach each spirit as a unique individual that has certain qualities. These qualities may be associated with elemental, planetary or zodiacal attributes, but they should not be influenced by Christian morality. So, that means that the various descriptions of spirits as found in the old grimoires are completely useless. The only thing that has any value whatsoever is the identifying sigil or character and the spirit’s name. The overall class of spirits as well as any underlying symbolic qualifications may assist the Witch in developing an image or imago of the target spirit, but the magical techniques and approach to performing a conjuration of such a spirit should be developed separately and distinctly from the grimoire from which they are taken.

This also includes aligning oneself with various infernal chiefs or other such fabulous diabolic entities (Satan, Beelzebub, Lucifuge), since they are specifically associated with Christian or Jewish concepts spiritual duality and are not commensurate with the pagan non-dual spiritual perspectives of a Witch. All Deities are valid and real as are all spirits, but Abrahamic based theology is neither valid nor applicable to the practice of traditional Witchcraft-based magick. Thus I seek to approach these kinds of magical entities in a neutral manner, removing the obvious Christian stigmas and the accretions of misinformation to reveal the spirit’s underlying pagan characteristics. (The apparent monism of Witchcraft can be found in the idea that everything is connected to everything else, and that all of the spiritual entities in the world are united within the One which is purposely left un-named.)

Perhaps some of the most powerful and personal spirits with whom I have trafficked were known only to me and my personal magical process. They are not names of spirits found in books, and the lore associated with them is what I developed myself, so it is quite personal and intimate. We are surrounded by spirits and some of them are associated with the place and location wherein we reside or work while others are associated with our genetic lineage, spiritual lineage or our personal magical pantheon, which is always far greater than we realize. Ignoring all of these entities while cultivating the spirits found in the old grimoires is probably a very one-sided approach to Witchcraft-based magick, and it is not one that I would recommend.

I believe that the Witch conjuror should develop her ability to conjure these spirits first before engaging with spirits of the old grimoires. This will engage the Witch for a time, since she will have to determine the names, qualities and build up their images in order to conjure them and develop a lengthy and intimate relationship with them. In fact, a Witch could go far just working with the spirits in her own domain without having to traffic with the spirits listed in the grimoires. Still, the real challenge is to engage with both sets of spirits (personal domain and legendary) and master all of them in turn.

Keep in mind that to a modern pagan we have around us many Gods, Goddesses, Earth Spirits, Deities of place and location, ancestors, cultural heros, the unsettled spirits of the dead, demons, fabulous creatures and a host of lesser or even unknown deities and spirits. It is a very crowded spiritual universe and it is important for the Witch to build up a pantheon of meaningful Deities and Spiritual Sponsors, not to mention the most important of all spirits, which is her familiar spirit. This is the first task (in my opinion) that faces the Witch who aspires to be a conjurer. Once she is well vetted with the conjuration of spirits in her own domain then she can take on the spirits of legend as they occur in the various old grimoires. 

I have based this inclusive spiritual perspective of many Gods and Spirits and rejected the bias of my Christian upbringing because it was a source of my own previous confusion and lack of clarity when it came to dealing with these entities in a practical and pagan manner. I discovered that this confusion was completely resolved the moment I rejected the dualistic notions and tendencies associated with Christian theology so imbedded in our world and saturating our cultural values.

These spiritual biases suffuse the old grimoires because they were written by Christians, although some of those authors did display a pronounced predilection for diabolism in their practices. I discovered the hard way that it is better to base one’s spiritual beliefs on a pagan perspective (even if it is modern in scope) and only to that add the various spirits and entities associated with any of the old grimoires rather than attempt to emulate the mind-set behind them. In this manner, the Witch as conjuror doesn’t take on all of the baggage associated with the various classes of spirits, be they angels, demons, chthonic deities, infernal chiefs or whatever. With this in mind, the traditional Witch can appropriate various spirit lists, sigils, characters and other attributes and tropes from the old grimoires without any trouble, but she should keep her spiritual beliefs and alignments completely intact and not forget her own personal spiritual contacts. This is particularly true regarding her familiar spirit, which consists of her personal alignment to a personal Deity and all of the associated liturgical obligations and spiritual connections that such a relationship entails.

In order to engage in conjuring the legendary spirits, the Witch will appropriate various spirit lists, characters/sigils and associated zodiacal attributes (if feasible) and select one of these spirits as the target of a conjuration. While the descriptions might be highly misleading, the functional attributes (what the spirit can do if it is successfully conjured) are a basic starting point. As the Witch conjurer becomes more experienced and familiar with the various spirits associated with a particular grimoire or class then the descriptions and details of each spirit will be filled out to include a great deal of detailed experiential knowledge. The most important task in preparing for a conjuration is to develop a personal connection or alignment with a specific target spirit. Perhaps that spirit is a specialized gate-keeper for access to a whole class of spirits (such as Scirlan in the Grimoirum Verum) or it might just be one of a distinct class. Regardless, the Witch approaches this spirit with a powerful emotional desire to summon and to experience a thorough engagement with it.

The preparation work requires a period of preliminary summoning where the Witch creates the consecrated parchment with the spirit’s name and its character or sigil and makes the association between the symbol on the parchment and the entity itself a powerful reality in her mind. The act of fashioning this consecrated talisman for the purpose of conjuring it will be the first step in successfully evoking it. This is because the consecrated talisman is a physical link for that spirit. Other things can be used to augment the conjuration of the target spirit, such as the use of colored altar cloths and candles, incense, oils, herbs, gems, precious metals etched with the spirit’s name and character; all of these are based on the symbolic qualities associated with the spirit, but all of them are merely supplemental when compared to the consecrated parchment sigil.        

While the grimoires have quite a number of items that need to be consecrated and prepared for the working, such as vestments, weapons and other tools, the Witch already has all of her tools consecrated and ready for use. She only needs to fashion and consecrate the parchment sigil, and once that is done, she will spend many hours or even days focusing on the parchment character and internally call and summon the spirit. I could well imagine that the Witch sits in her dark sequestered temple holding the consecrated parchment in her hands before a lit candle specially made and consecrated for that use, whose light is dimmed by the clouds of incense smoke. Within that twilight stygian atmosphere she is whispering the name of the spirit over and over again, thereby powerfully reinforcing her intention to invoke this spirit. (I typically perform this same action days prior to a scheduled invocation and I have found it to be a potent tool for reinforcing the invocative working, even though I use a much more elaborate ritual lore.)

A Witch might also use this preparation time to gather and prepare any other ingredients that she might need, such as bitter or aromatic herbs or other items that are a regular part of her work. She will pick an auspicious night for the planned invocation based on the cycle of the moon and planets, but all of this will be a normal part of her cyclic work. It will also depend on the class and type of spirit that she intending to invoke, but the cycle of the moon will be sufficient to complete her task. The actual effort of preparation, though, is the fortification of the mind and the will to successfully accomplish the work, since these will be the most essential elements used in the invocation.

When the scheduled time for the invocation working arrives then the Witch will sequester herself in her temple domain for the duration of the working. This domain may be a permanent location or it might be a room or outdoor area temporarily reserved for that purpose. Regardless, the Witch will perform her usual circle consecration rite, empowerment and godhead assumption in order to begin the working. She will have the charged and consecrated parchment sigil that she has focused on for days and this will be the central focus for the working. If she is employing planetary hours or timing the working to specific astrological aspects then once the circle is consecrated the perception of time within that barrier becomes locked or frozen for the duration of the working.

Performing an actual invocation, that is calling and summoning the spirit to appear and using various authorities and words of power to make it emphatically so, is something of an acquired artistry. Certainly, the invocations written in the grimoire might suffice for a model or example of how to proceed with an invocation, but of course, the tone and the principalities or authorities cited should be completely changed. Many invocations found in the old grimoires establish a hostile relationship to the spirit being summoned, and they also use obvious Abrahamic attributes of Deity in order to reinforce or legitimize the summoning. A Witch doesn’t need either authority or legitimacy to summon a spirit. She uses the invested power of her will fortified with her personalized godhead that is consciously present within her.

However, she does need to pepper her invocation with various words of power, such as those purloined from the Greek Magical Papyri or other grimoires, or she can use words made up for the occasion (talking in tongues). She should call upon the powers of all of her spiritual alignments so as to have the proper weight or “gravity” to draw the spirit to her. She will also practice and perfect the technique of intoning her words when she speaks them, or she could add a keening wail or screeching sound for effect. She might even sing or chant her invocation while playing a drum or a bell. We can assume that a practiced Witch will develop her own unique way of speaking and resonating verbal intonations when summoning a spirit, but it will sound powerful and even frightening to an outsider. This is because when we seek to get the attention of spirits, otherworldly vocal sounds and intonations can greatly empower an invocation.

Perhaps the simplest of all spells associated with spirit conjuration is to use of what I call the ceremony of naming and un-naming. The ceremony of naming is where the syllables of the spirit’s name are built up from the right to the left until the full name is expressed. It begins with a single letter and joins to it the first syllable and then the second, and so on. Here’s an example.

Ceremony of Naming for the spirit Nogorathes:


Likewise, the ceremony of Un-naming for the spirit Nogorathes:


The Witch conjurer can use the ceremony of naming and un-naming to summon a spirit and also to dismiss or release it. It is an antique method and a really good one. I still use it myself, although I usually add to it other invocative techniques. You can slowly and sonorously step through each syllable and either build up or redact the spirit’s name, and you can do this once or three times, depending on your inclination. 

The content or verbiage of the invocation used by a Witch is neutral. It names the spirit and summons it to appear in a repetitious manner. Unlike the old grimoires, she doesn’t threaten or insult the summoned spirit nor attempt to angrily coerce it, thereby assuming a haughty superiority to the targeted entity. If anything, she uses her magnetic power to seduce and draw the spirit to her, employing bribes or the promise of bribes (offerings) to accomplish her end. She also seeks to draw the spirit into her sacred circle domain to be with her and her personal godhead.

Once this task is accomplished there is an immediate connectivity between the conjuring Witch and her target spirit. This is a decidedly different methodology than either invoking a spirit into a triangle that is exterior to the magic circle or for that matter, performing a scrying session from the safe confines of one’s sacred space. The invocation is performed in an iterative manner until the Witch receives direct contact and communication from the spirit, and once accomplished she can move to the next step. (The invocation will likely be successful because the Witch has spent many hours and days with her preliminary summoning and establishing a link with the target spirit.)

How do you communicate with spirits, or sense or somehow perceive them? It is a mental process that one has to develop over time and a solid trance state is the best foundation for communication and perception. I believe that it is impossible to “talk” to spirits unless one has undergone quite a lot of trance work and deep meditation. (Those of us who can readily talk to spirits have built up quite a bit of experience and can quickly shift our state of consciousness into that of a mild trance state.) We all have to learn to listen with our spirit ears and talk with our spirit voices in order to engage properly with spirits. Admittedly, these actions take quite a bit of practice and preparation. However, the assumption of the godhead working should give the erstwhile Witch a much needed foundation for being able to communicate with spirits, since this rite allows a full conscious link to be developed between the Witch and her familiar spirit. Also, I have found that the assumption of godhead mind-state acts as an effective mechanism for communicating, translating and even allowing one to see a spirit assuming a recognizable shape in it’s own domain. 

What occurs next in the conjuration is a dialogue between the conjuror and the invoked spirit. This is referred to as the process of establishing a “quid pro quo” relationship with that entity. The conjuror tells the spirit what he or she wants (supposedly that is within the domain of the spirit’s capabilities) and then asks what the spirit wants in return. This can go on for a while, but at some point either an agreement is reached or not. When an agreement has been reached, then the spirit and the conjuror are “bound” together for a mutual task. If there is no agreement, then the conjuror politely releases the spirit. Still, I don’t subscribe to developing a legal style document or pact and then forcing the spirit to agree to it, usually with an underlying threat. If a spirit is “hot” to begin with, then coercing and threatening it will only create a stressful and hostile relationship, which is subject to the problematic issue of dominance. Such a relationship may even work for a time (as it does in human interactions), but in the end it will unleash the putative retribution of a very pissed-off spirit. It could even cause the invocation to completely fail. Let me give you an overly simplified example of how this works. 

Did you ever get a phone call from an obnoxious and pushy salesperson interrupting whatever you were doing? Were you inclined to listen indulgently or did you instead insult the caller and then hang up? You might not even have bothered to answer if you knew that the caller wasn’t someone whose number you recognized. The same is true with spirits, although the mechanism is considerably different. Unless you subscribe completely to the mental outlook that all spirits (except angels, saints and Jesus Christ) are inherently bad or untrustworthy, then it behooves you to take a much more positive and open attitude to the spirit that you intend to invoke. It is for this reason that the binding and constraining of an invoked spirit takes on a completely different tone when the conjurer has a positive and open attitude towards the invoked spirit. It also has the effect of making one’s relationship with all spirits positive and rewarding. Such an attitude is more typical of a pagan spirituality than one steeped in the Abrahamic faiths. Binding can be done with the art of ligature, and the binding or sealing of the partchment sigil is a good example of how that might be accomplished, that is, if it’s even necessary.

However, I have found that there is no real need to constrain a spirit to physical appearance nor to bind it to some kind of irrevocable pact if the conjuror has instead established a positive and empowering relationship with that spirit. Such a relationship can and does become an active part of the Witch’s personal religious cult (whose central Deity is the personal deity associated with one’s higher self) and so the spirit, once invoked, receives regular offerings like the other deities and spirits associated with her pantheon.

If you want a spirit to perform certain actions at your bequest whenever needed then you will need to develop a relationship with that spirit and give it regular offerings, much as one would do with the ancestors and the Gods. However, for a spirit that is invoked for a specific purpose with no inherent need to continue the relationship, then the agreement is the bargain that briefly binds the spirit and conjurer together. I make it a point to give an initial or partial offering and then when the agreement is fulfilled by the spirit, the rest of the offering is made. Once the spirit fulfills its part of the bargain then the conjurer is obligated to make the final offering very soon afterwards. Not fulfilling a bargain with a spirit may not seem to be worse than skipping a car payment or a mortgage payment since the repercussions to such a miserly action are more subtle and less outwardly legal, at least initially. It’s particularly bad for a conjuror to get the reputation of being a “welcher” because then few spirits would even entertain the notion of appearing when being invoked.

When I speak of making offerings to spirits what am I actually referring to? Offerings are the items given to the spirit as part of the agreed upon relationship (also known as the binding and constraining factors). The relationship might be short term, thus necessitating a formal release, or it might be long term, which would entail that the Witch gives regular offerings to that spirit. In fact, she might even have an idol fashioned for that spirit, consecrated, charged and ensconced upon her shrine with the other statues, tokens and fetishes of her personal religious practice. Offerings normally include some kind of food and drink, or other substances as requested and negotiated with the target spirit. It is here that I need to say a few words about the offering of one’s own blood or the blood of a sacrificial beast.

Blood offerings are sometimes required, but they are really based on one’s tastes and practices. If a spirit required me to give it blood I would negotiate for a surrogate, such as a bloody piece of cooked meat or perhaps some blood-red wine (or a concoction of dragon’s blood). Because the binding and constraining really consists of a negotiated exchange and an agreement over time, there is always the possibility of arriving at an offering that is satisfactory to both parties. I reserve blood offerings to very special rites and I always use my own blood instead of that of some hapless creature, unless the offering is for food, specifically, cooked meat. Still, I have found that nearly all of the spirits that I have worked with only require a token offering instead of some onerous sacrifice. The real hard sacrifices are typically required by Deities, even so, no God or Goddess that I have worked with has ever asked me to take a life in their name. It is with Deity alone that I have shared my blood in an offering, and thankfully, it is a rare event.

If the negotiated agreement between the conjurer and the target spirit is for a specific desire in exchange for a singular offering, then once the invocation has reached a satisfactory conclusion, the conjuror should make a partial offering, thank the spirit for appearing and then courteously dismiss it. This is called releasing or in the old grimoires it is called “giving a license to depart.” If there is no need nor desire to make the spirit a regular part of one’s spiritual shrine, then it is very important to release the spirit. A Witch conjurer can use an elaborate and official method of releasing or use instead a simple and fond farewell, and, “till we meet again someday,” sort of closing.

The various information that a conjurer receives through the performance of an invocation of a spirit, including the consecrated parchment sigil or talisman used as the link, are assembled together a put into the pages of a book specially made and consecrated for that purpose. It is called a Liber Spiritum, or Book of Spirits. This book would include such information as the log or diary of the invocation, what transpired, the image or imago that the spirit assumed (if any), the nature of the agreement and the intention of the invocation, anything that the spirit imparted specifically to the conjurer (the giving of a mark - part of the constraint), and the ultimate outcome.

Obviously, if the spirit becomes a part of the conjurer’s pantheon, then a veritable book could be assembled to contain all of the material passed on between the spirit and the conjurer. Also, a spirit that has been previously invoked and put into the Book of Spirits can be more easily accessed by using the sigil pasted to a page of the book as a connecting link. This is where the term “Bell, Book and Candle” can be used by the Witch conjurer. All she has to do is to take the book into sacred space, open it to the page where the sigil of a specific spirit resides, light a candle and ring a bell to summon and reconnect with a previously invoked spirit in the Book of Spirits. I would also add lighting some special incense and quietly intoning and summoning the spirit to appear. I would call such a rite used to re-establish a previous working to be a “macro-rite” and I use these shorthand processes wherever possible to make my magick more efficient.

You can imagine that over time a Witch would assemble quite a repertoire of invoked spirits in her Book of Spirits, and such a book would be far more important, powerful and useful than any common Gardnerian Book of Shadows. Additionally, the Witch could also write up her rituals and techniques into the book and use it as a focus for her spirit conjuring work. The book also has the quality of being transportable, so she can take it with her wherever she goes, and it only requires a shift in consciousness for her to mentally erect the proper sacred space. While the book would be important to the singular Witch who owned it, it would be far less useful or valuable to an outsider. An outsider wouldn’t have spent the time and effort in summoning and evoking the spirits named in it, and so he or she wouldn’t be able to establish such a connection simply by possessing the book. This is because what is in the book is powerful and meaningful only to the Witch who produced it, and all of the spiritual connections illustrated in such a work would be indelibly represented within the sphere of her mind and soul. The book would only function as an outward artifact of her own personal power as a sorceress, and then, only in her possession.

Witch As Conjurer - Recap

We have briefly covered the various elements and techniques needed for one to function as a Witch conjurer. I wrote this article so that any experienced Witch could quickly assemble her tools and techniques and become a conjurer of spirits. I believe that it is a distinguishing characteristic of what it means to be a Witch to have the capability of conjuring spirits, and I think that it is part of our legacy and innate nature. This capability does indeed require a lot of practice, and like any skill, the more effort that one puts into it, the more proficient one becomes in doing it. However, a Witch can become a conjurer without having to adopt one’s practice to either the Golden Dawn based system of magick or the techniques and tropes associated with one or more of the old grimoires. It is my belief that modern Witchcraft already has all of the essential elements needed to master the art of spirit invocation and evocation. You can pursue a simple path or develop an elaborate one, but you don’t have to change what you are already doing.

Typically, a follower of Wicca is engaged in the modern pagan spirituality of nature, celebrating the changing seasons and the cycle of the moon. She engages with the natural mysteries inherent in life itself and feels the pulse and power not only within her body, but also within her soul and the core of her being. She may have learned how to perform thaumaturgy from books or teachers, and she will have an effective knowledge of sensing and engaging with the various Gods and Goddess of her cultural heritage as well as the Deities of place, location, and geophysical topology. However, she will have to master certain techniques in order to begin the process of learning spirit conjuring. These techniques are:

  • Mastery of Basic Witchcraft Rites (Consecration, Sacred Space, Raising Power, Sigil Magic, Lunar and Solar mystery rites, Initiation Rite (self or tradition))
  • Mastery of Trance States
  • Mastery of the Godhead Assumption Rite (the Draw)
  • Development of the Familiar Spirit (Personal Godhead)
  • Development of Spirit Listening, Talking and even Seeing - also Spirit Traveling

Once these techniques reach a certain degree of competency then the Witch Conjurer can focus on the following tasks.

  • Develop a spirit summoning rite - basic pattern/outline
  • Develop techniques of the preliminary summoning
  • Develop techniques of Invocation (methods and verbiage of summoning)
  • Focus on the Personal Domain of Spirits - develop spirit lists and build a personal pantheon
  • Build a personal shrine for Deities and Spirit
  • Consecrate a Book of Spirits
  • Collect specific examples of the Old Grimoires and develop a methodology for conjuring spirits from the various spirit lists
  • Build up an expertise in Spirit Conjuration over many years of experimentation and practice.

I have written articles about many of these subjects already, and you can find them in the index on the left hand side of the blog below all the rest of the blog-based doodads. Sometimes using this index is a pain in the neck, but the discovered articles found using this tool are well worth the effort.

So what you have to do to become a spirit conjurer is to add some additional techniques to what you already possess and practice. All it takes is time and a willingness to develop new lore and to experiment, which I do believe is the really fun and interesting part of being a Witch.

Frater Barrabbas