There seem to be more people working towards achieving Knowledge and Conversation of their Holy Guardian Angels these days, and that's great. There also seem to be more people who want to look like they've checked that box on the spiritual authority check list, and that's not so great.
A friend recently noted that we see a lot of people who describe their experience as if it was one super cool moment, and then it was done. Nothing changes after, there is no relationship after, they did it, they have it in their back pocket that they did it, and they don't have much of anything useful to add to the discourse that reflects their experience. They generalize the angel, or reduce its nature to something relatively meaningless, or treat attaining the angel like a badge they get for leveling up and then moving on. The experience is doing the thing, and saying they did the thing, and that's all it is; it's another experiment with another grimoire or another technique and they met the spirit and it was cool and that's it, right?
It's a pretty immense fantastic experience when it happens. And to some degree that initial experience is momentary. That momentary experience exists to create a powerful on going relationship. Think of it sort of like a friend. You can call up a friend, hang out, have a good time, and then go your own way, getting together as needed. But say you and that friend have some sort of life changing experience which shapes the both of you, that creates a bond which ties you together and lets you share an intimacy you don't have with others, so there is a connection which is always there. The moment in the oratory where you complete the retreat is like that. It is a moment so full of force and fire that it forges a bond between you and the angel which is unlike that of other spirits with whom you interact.
Now, based on many approaches to understanding the angel, there is already a bond between you and your angel before the retreat. I would question whether or not all of these other descriptions of Guardian Angels and Holy Guardian Angels are necessarily talking about the same thing as what is described in The Sacred Magic, in fact, I would assert that in many cases they aren't. That said, in my experience, yes, your angel is there from the beginning, and you can and should make contact before doing the retreat. The retreat changes the nature of the bond and the contact, probably mostly on our end, but still, there is a perceptible change, which changes us and how the angel interacts with us.
I very rarely reference things Aaron Leitch says, and initially when I saw him compare Knowledge and Conversation to being Crowned by a spirit I mistook his meaning, and I avoided the comparison. But really, it is pretty apt. Knowledge and Conversation is a form of possession.
People tend to think of possession as it appears in The Exorcist, or The Exorcism of Emily Rose, or other cinematic depictions. Both of those examples are based on true stories, to some degree, but they both take cinematic license and make things visually shocking for horror movie audiences. Still, there is a reality to that kind of possession. Possession can refer to a point where a spirit takes over a person, and torments them. Possession can look like madness.
But that's not the only kind of possession, and even in the case of a spiritual assault there are stages to possession. In magic, where we find possession occurring as choice in which the magician has a relationship with the spirit these stages are more clearly understood. Unfortunately most European Magic (as Western is an inaccurate description) no longer contains spirit possession work, so for most people exploring Holy Guardian Angels, spirit possession means spinning heads and pea soup.
So first you should understand that possession occurs in different stages. In Catholicism there is Courting, Obsession, and Possession. When a spirit is courting someone it is exploring weaknesses which would open that person to possession and tempting them into situations to exploit and exacerbate those weaknesses. The spirit might directly influence and inspire the person and attempt to draw them in. When a spirit is obsessing someone the spirit has made contact and presents the person with things they desire and draws them towards desiring a relationship with the spirit or opening up to that spirit's influence. The obsessed person is oppressed by the spirit as the spirit begins to exert some control., often by impacting their well being and weakening the person's resistance to their influence. Possession occurs when the person succumbs to the obsessing spirit and control is relinquished. Finally an integration would occur if the person willingly gives themselves over to the possessing entity.
These stages all take a pretty negative view on the subject because in Catholicism possession is almost always an involuntary and negative act. Catholicism does however provide a lot of the framework for European spirit magic and so an awareness of it can be useful as a way for setting up our thinking.
Another way of looking at it based in Afro-Caribbean traditions would be that in stage one the spirit sits on you or next to you, you can feel the presence of the spirit, it touches you, you can communicate with it, but aside from a more intimate awareness of it, you're still in the driver's seat, and you can break off from the contact. A second stage involves the spirit more intimately connecting with you such that it can influence and take partial control. You're aware of what's happening, mostly, and you can exert some control, but you and the spirit are kind of sharing control of the steering wheel. The third phase is when the spirit is in full control, and you act as the spirit, you may or may not have awareness and it may or may not communicate with you so much as through you in this process. ( To be clear, I am not an initiate of any African Diaspora, or African Traditional Religions. My comments here are based on understandings of Kimbanda from classes, books and discussions with Kimbandieros. I will happily accept correction if I have mischaracterized this comparison.)
Knowledge and Conversation is somewhere between stage one and stage two, which would fit somewhere close to the obsession stage in a Catholic context. But in the case of Knowledge and Conversation it is voluntary on our parts, and so that gives it an integrated element, which makes it like he reception of a Head Spirit, or being Crowned, in which the spirit with whom you work, by whom you are possessed “resides” with you and so there is an on going relationship in which the “stage” or the clarity of contact, moves on a scale as per the context of the particular moment.
That said, unless you've experienced these types of spiritual interaction, this probably doesn't explain the experience too much.
To go back to Hollywood as a means of illustrating...Death Note is a good example. The relationship between Light and his God of Death is a good example. Ryuk is always there, even if he's just sort of in the back of Light's awareness. They communicate, Light gets answers and suggestions from Ryuk. Ryuk isn't in control but his presence impacts how Light is able to approach things and Ryuk is at times able to facilitate things for him. On some level it looks kind of like a relationship with a familiar spirit, except that Ryuk exerts influence just by virtue of his connection to Light as well as directly by what he communicates, rather than a familiar, who generally performs tasks and provides information but without that same influence. The recent Fox TV series version of The Exorcist has also depicted this phase of possession, albeit in a negative context, in season two of the series. Andy, the possessed individual, initially experiences the possessing spirit as a girl who he believes to be one of his foster children. She suggests things to him, influences what he does and how he makes decisions, she isn't always with him but she's always watching and can make suggestions to or influence Andy pretty much whenever she chooses, but still she's not ultimately in control of him.
Recently when talking with the same friend who pointed out that some people treat the Holy Guardian Angel like a One and Done kind of thing I described it like this:
“By possession I mean like first/second stage The spirit is touching you so it knows and understands you and is able to freely talk to you, but it's there like generally. Like not every waking moment but at any given moment it can interact. It's intimately in the space of your being; still identifiably separate though, but it doesn't feel dissociative. It is like a partner who sits in your sphere and kind of comes into your ear when he needs to speak.”
I could go into what talking to it is like, or how this relationship impacts magic and divination and other spirit work...but if I did all that in one blog post it's seriously limit what I'd have to talk about later.
In any case, finishing the Abramelin, or Liber 8, or Samekh, or whatever ritual you intend to use to achieve Knowledge and Conversation is great, and it's important, but it isn't really the goal or the prize. That all comes later, and is the unfolding relationship which completing the ritual catalyzes. It's not just that single moment, but rather the way in which it affects all the later moments.