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Monday, January 21, 2019

Publicly Thanking Spirits

          A common thing to see on social media is people posting thank yous to various gods angels and other spirits. I myself do this routinely. Some have suggested that this could be a thing offered to spirits when asking for something, particularly spirits who are known to want fame and attention. People might also see it and wonder why people would publicly post about spirits, or their spirituality. People might wonder why people wouldn’t keep something like that private or if it’s intended to show off.
          Historically, thanking spirits publicly was a common part of pagan cultures. We see it largely in Rome and throughout the empire. It was not uncommon for people to put up graffiti naming a god and thanking it for something. In medieval Europe saints were publicly thanked at their shrines or publicly punished when they disappointed the community. In cultures where your spirits are real and where most people recognize them as real it’s common for our social interactions with the spirit world to be part of our social interactions with our embodied community.
          Most of us live in a different sort of culture these days. We have grown up in societies influenced by the cold spiritless worldview of low church Protestantism. Along with not acknowledging the reality of the spirit world, that worldview prizes quiet, humility, and avoidance of any spiritual act which might seem showy. We also mostly live in societies where religion is no longer part of the culture, and people have many different religious views and backgrounds. Since religion is a reified thing separate from cultural norms religion becomes a thing in a weird box. A box we’re supposed to keep private, a box we’re not supposed to talk about or ask about. It becomes a thing we have to navigate in terms of our experience of ourselves and others. In short, we live in a world which doesn’t promote a healthy experience of religion and society as a natural part of our lives woven deeply into our cultural experience. As a result it can become a bizarre artifact which people look at with curiosity and awkwardness when we allow our religious behaviors and experiences to show, instead of the healthy positive empowering experience of fully engaging the spirit world with those around us. We should be able to rejoice in the experience of the fullness of reality.
          So when we thank a spirit publicly, for some people, depending on how they do it, it might be showing off. But I hope for most people it isn’t. After all, you’re recognizing what the spirits did not what you did. For most people it’s a sincere expression of gratitude. We don’t often think of it as such, but gratitude can be a valuable thing to give. When we think of offerings we think about food or alcohol or objects. We are less likely to think about devotion, or time, or words, or behaviors, and we are certainly less likely to think about gratitude. But how nice is it when someone truly and sincerely expresses gratitude for something we’ve done? When we realize we’ve really helped someone, and that they really appreciated it and they express their appreciation and how it helped them, our hearts warm. It feels really good. Gratitude has a value and is a meaningful and powerful offering.
          When we consider gratitude in the light of our contemporary society there is an added component. We live in a throw away society. We buy things that are disposable. When we buy things that last, we expect that eventually they’ll break and replacing them will be easier than fixing them. We turn off anyone who we disagree with. We walk away from whatever doesn’t suit us. This doesn’t mean we don’t have things we love or appreciate, or people we love or appreciate. It does however make it easier to allow any interaction or relationship to be one which can be thrown away. It puts a premium on connection and valuing others. It adds a deeper value to simple things like gratitude because we recognize our interactions aren’t throw aways. We recognize our interactions with ephemeral things don’t have to be ephemeral themselves and that we need to maintain and value those relationships. In a throw away world, true gratitude can be revolutionary.
          We also live in a society where belief in spirits and magic is not recognized as the norm. The reality is, it’s much closer to the norm than we realize, most people believe in spirits and magic in some way, but they don’t profess a belief in it. They don’t engage a belief in it. Those of us who do profess such a belief and engage in navigating our world based on that belief might get written off as eccentric or weird or crazy. Publicly acknowledging the role of spirits in our lives, especially on a regular basis and in front of those who don’t embrace that belief shows a commitment to those relationships with spirits and to our understanding of the world. We willingly show gratitude regardless of how it might appear.
          As magicians there is also an element of posturing that sometimes creeps in. People don’t believe in magic so magicians have to prove to themselves and others that their belief is well placed. They have to show that they are successful powerful magicians. Even within the community of magicians sometimes it seems like people have a need to show that they are powerful and capable magicians. Letting go of that need can be important to getting things done, and real power and success often come when we stop worrying about making it look like we have those things. Sometimes getting what we need comes from understanding when we should go after something ourselves and when we should ask for help.
          When we thank spirits for things we have not only acknowledged that we encountered a situation where we needed help, and asked for that help, but we are publicly letting that be known. Instead of fronting that we are unstoppable forces which can handle all things on our own we’re publicly implying that we ran into a problem. Our lives aren’t perfect despite our magic. Not only are we acknowledging that we ran into an issue but we’re also acknowledging that we needed help. We didn’t just have a problem in our lives which our magic didn’t prevent, but we ran into something where we turned to things which were bigger than us, or at least which had a greater vantage than us, so that they could help us and provide for us. This doesn’t prove anything about our power or prowess, it also doesn’t take away from it. But we’re publicly recognizing that the spirits in our lives are not only helpful, and powerful, but that they are beings which we need in our lives who help us when we need to rely on someone other than ourselves. We also recognize that it’s ok to rely on something other than ourselves despite the often egoistic nature of modern magical culture and modern culture in general.
          So, there is quite a bit we can unpack when it comes to those things implied by our own expressions of gratitude. We represent belief in real spiritual presence despite the Protestant inspired modern world, we express gratitude and value in a world where gratitude and value are often overlooked, we open ourselves to review where people see what we believe, they see that we encounter problems, they see that sometimes we need help. There is in a sense a humility and a sort of being laid bare present in the act of publicly giving thanks, and it embraces a classical approach to the world quite at odds with our modern experience.
          Aside from our experience…the spirits might also enjoy public thanksgiving. Many spirits like awareness to be drawn towards them and to their ability to work in the world successfully. More people connecting to them and thinking of them, more people working with them and seeking with them can help their access to or interaction with our phase of the world. More people turning to them for things can also lead to more people making offerings to them and giving them things they like. So for many spirits, it’s not just the fact that we’re giving a gift of gratitude bolstered by the circumstances which would otherwise confine that gratitude from being given, but also that they desire public praise, or fame, or attention. Not all spirits want this, but many do. So with that in mind public thanks can be an offering which is not only meaningful from the perspective of our own experience but also can be exactly what a spirit wants.
          So if you enjoyed my thoughts on this subject, check out more of my thoughts on the spirit world and our relationships with it in my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits.
          Also, like and follow us on Facebook and share this link so your friends can enjoy it too!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Costumes and Damnation: Getting Real About Conjuration

 Read on...but make sure to also click over and check out my new book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits

I want to start this blog post with a shout out to Alexander Eth and his podcast Glitch Bottle. If you're not already listening to it, and I imagine a lot of you are, then you should check it out. He's had a lot of really cool guests on, especially ones you'll be interested in if you're into grimoire magic or other modes of spirit magic inspired by the grimoires. Aside from the guests though, Alexander is a really good host. Rufus Opus has spoken with me about how good Alexander is as an interviewer, and from listening to his show I can see why. I wasn't a big podcast listener until I checked out Runesoup and I got pretty into listening to that for awhile. That show works well because Gordon is not only knowledgeable about his guests but also about the subject matter. I was talking with another popular author who explained that one of the most difficult parts of a publicity campaign is being interviewed by non-occultists and having conversations where you basically talk around each other. When I've listened to random podcasts hosts who have no idea what they're talking about can really mess up an interview with a really interesting guest. Alexander brings something different to the table than Gordon, he's knowledgeable about the material and his guests, but his perspective is like that of a lot of listeners, he's still exploring a lot of the material and so there is a curiosity which creates room for a lot of interesting questions fueled by excitement and eagerness.

This is a much bigger plug for anything than I think I've done here before. Aside from that fact that it's a podcast worth checking out, I started with that because this blog post was inspired by listening to a recent Glitch Bottle episode in which Jake Stratton-Kent was interviewed.

About 15 minutes into the interview Alexander Eth poses this question:

“I would like to talk about some of those differences because for instance Doctor Skinner writes a lot about how a lot of the items in a ceremonial operation, the crown the sword the robes, these are done not for the magician's benefit but to impress the spirits so that according to Doctor Skinner, when you're engaging in an evocation the spirit isn't quite sure if you're King Solomon or not, and these threats that are made, obviously the mage has no actual power to force a spirit into the burning fires of hell for all eternity, but if someone threatens that way all of the sudden, the spirit as you said, according to the Iamblichus definition isn't sure so it's going to do what you want anyway if you bind it properly. IS that, can you just comment on that, in terms of are spirits, to Doctor Skinner's point, are they impressed or even fooled by this kind of regalia and approach and preconsecrated items?”

Jake answers by noting that this shows up in antiquity too and then questions if it's about building up the magician or trying to fool the spirit and notes that it can be both, the magician can be building himself up.

I can say, in short, I very much disagree with Doctor Skinner here. I've seen a few other popular grimoire authors suggest similar things and to me it seems kind of a weak position to take as far as intellectual exploration of what's happening goes. Especially since in many grimoires you're not dressing up as King Solomon, but you do still have ritual clothing to be worn. I have seen his Iamblichus argument in his books and it's never sat right with me. There are definitely spirits that fit the category Iamblichus describes, I would not say all the spirits conjured by the grimoires fit that description, Astaroth, Beelzebuth, Lucifer, Leviathan, Oriens, Paimon, Amaymon, Egyn... none of them strike me as stupid or confused, and I name those simply because I think most everyone will recognize that they clearly aren't spirits to whom this description applies. But lesser known demons also from the Hygromanteia and the Folger Manuscript also haven't struck me this way. Elemental spirits, manifestations developed from the experiences of a place, spirits that are largely characterized by an active force more than a persona, those seem to be what Iamblichus is describing.

So lets unpack the pieces.

You have the tools – which are consecrated; you have the costuming – to sometimes appear like Solomon; you have the binding – to constrain the spirit to perform your task; you have the condemnations to hell. So are any of these real? Do any of them have any actual affect? Or is it all just a trick?

Personally, if a paper crown fools a spirit into thinking I'm Solomon I probably don't want to trust that the spirit can follow directions on anything important. These spirits who teach all the sciences and arts, who reveal secrets, who have endless knowledge which we call upon them to obtain…are somehow dumb enough that paper costuming makes them think we’re a king from thousands of years ago? Major hole in the logic of the system. But it’s not the only hole.

If we're playing dress up to trick the spirit into thinking we're Solomon, why would Solomon have the power to eternally condemn them to hell when we don't? If it's about wearing a costume to trick spirits, why are we consecrating the tools? If we're binding the spirit, which is what conjuration is – binding the spirit by the power of the divine name or the power of the ruling spirit; then why do we need to go through the process of tricking them?

Doctor Skinner's position kind of undermines most of the rest of what is being done in a ritual of conjuration. It also seems to miss some important elements of the world view in which the grimoires existed and also that in which they developed.

We have to remember that the grimoires are largely the product of a Catholic worldview. They draw on Jewish and Greek traditions and influences, and many similar and related ideas are present within those Greek and Jewish worldviews. But the end product that we have is largely part of that Catholic worldview and so that's a good starting point for explaining what we're doing in the grimoires. We can then compare to similar practices in earlier magic.

The magic associated with the grimoires was initially “literate” magic that was largely engaged in by priests and low-level clerics, or people with holy orders but not necessarily initiated fully as priests.

If we look at the Heptameron we're not dressing up like Solomon, we're simply wearing a priest's robe. The lamen is also like a stand in for the breast-plate of the priests in Hebrew tradition. The Heptameron draws in part from the tradition of Raziel texts and then itself serves as a link for that tradition into the later Solomonic texts. In the Heptameron we have a meeting of Catholic and Jewish traditions. In this case we see pieces of both traditions linking the magician to the image of priesthood. The magician also is referred to as “the exorcist” in this text, which is not simply a description of what he is doing but also of his status. As an exorcist he possessed the sacrament of holy orders and with it certain powers that it confers.

Solomon is essentially an icon of the priest-king, which in Judaism is initially shown to us through Melchizedek, who in Christianity is himself linked to Jesus. In Catholicism all people who are anointed through Baptism have had the power to become a prophet priest and king conferred upon them. The sacrament of orders actualizes elements of this power and allows the individual to act upon it. So the magician is not simply dressing up as Solomon, as a priest the magician has access to those same functions of prophet priest and king which gave Solomon authority.

To further understand this we have to understand two other elements of the priest's function and power. One is a role of similitude and the other is as a key holder.

The priest when functioning in his role as minister of the sacrament of the Eucharist is in that moment the living representation of the Christ. In Catholicism this is called “alter-Christos” or “other Christ.” In a sense to be Christos simply means to be anointed, and therefore following in the tradition of Saul and David, having been anointed with the oil of divine authority. In his role in the Mass the priest offers sacrifice on behalf of the people, and to do so fully he must not only recall the breaking of Christ's body and the shedding of his blood, he must engage in that reality and understand that he himself is making that sacrifice in that moment. In sharing in this the priest holds the power and authority of Christ, who for Christianity is the exemplar of the exorcist and does authentically have the power to command spirits.

Along with this role of similitude the Eucharist is partially consecrated by the litany of Saints. This is done separately from the Mass through the practice of Eucharistic adoration, but also can be done in the Mass through the naming of Saints during the process of consecration. The Eucharist is empowered with the full life and experience of Christ so that he who receives it is initiated into the mysteries of faith and therefore takes part in the death, resurrection, and the promise of return. The idea here is not so much to receive the knowledge that this happened but to receive the power of the experience of death, resurrection, and hope. The priest, again, has the power to impart this through the consecration, the Saints, being further icons of the power of man to be prophet priest and king are invoked so that by their presence a chain of power is conveyed upon the material through the heroes of the faith.

When we dress as Solomon, or call upon his name to liken ourselves to him in our prayers, or otherwise with Moses, we are likening ourselves to that heroic spiritual power which was known to command these spirits. We are accessing that chain of spiritual force similarly to when we draw on our ancestors in magic or when we carry an icon of some hero.

This idea has been hinted at by some popular magicians in the grimoire current. Julio Cesar Ody suggests that when we perform the rituals ascribed to Solomon correctly we are working rituals that have had success in the past with these spirits. This may be because of the charismatic power of the original exorcists who worked them, but because their power was able to bind the spirits through this ritual they can now be bound by that ritual, by those signs and names, by future magicians. Dr. Al Cummins has also noted that when we work with the Saints and we work with folk Catholic traditions we are working with spiritual powers and methods that touched our ancestors for hundreds of years. When we work with systems and when we engage in acts which held and exercised power in the past we are in part connecting with those who have exercised power by those means previously. We are tapping into an overall current. We draw on a line of informal sainthood and the force that goes with it.

So the priest is a stand in for Jesus, and he is likened to Solomon, or maybe Moses, and all of these figures are Righteous Kings, or manifestations of the role of Melchizedek. Does dressing upon and playing the part confer that likeness and with it the power inherent therein?

Probably not, at least not fully and not on its own.

When the earlier grimoires were written it was expected that the magician would be a priest and would have received the necessary sacraments. It was assumed that he was part of the chain of apostolic succession that linked him to this power. So in a world where it is not so generally the case that magicians are priests how do we make this work?

When we get to later grimoires the systems for preparing tools and the magician and other elements of set up become a little less Church oriented and a little more complex. My assumption has been that as the grimoires become less Catholic they build in modes for harnessing spiritual power through consecrated tools in lieu of power held by initiation.

Still approaching from the perspective of that spiritual power is still a possibility. Plenty of occult orders offer initiation which brings with it some ordination to priesthood. Many of them confer said ordination with the same apostolic power that traditional churches do. Even outside of those structures, making a connection to that same spiritual power and charisma can be obtained through routine mystical practice and spiritual devotion.

So if we obtain the power to work as a prophet priest and king, does that power only give us a standing of charisma and authority from which to call upon spirits or does it actually empower our claim to cast spirits to the pits of the inferno or perhaps to speak on their behalf at the final judgement as some grimoires promise?

Yes, yes it does. This has never been a matter of tricking spirits, or lying to the spirits. Or at least I’ll say it shouldn’t be. Some instructions for necromancy make promises to work for the remission of the sins of the dead only to have the necromancer ritually burn the body to destroy whatever is left of the dead once they’ve done their work. In more honest magic, a magician should make claims he has some ability to back up. Some part of magic is lying to make the lie a truth. Saying something that isn’t in order to shape the world so that that which was said is now that which is. That’s different from lying purely for the sake of trickery, which would undermine the ability to lie to shape the world. So how does tapping into the current of priesthood back up these claims? The priest, is a key holder.

When we look at the Church the symbol of the Holy See is a pair of keys. Christ passed on to his successors the ability to bind and loose. What those within the apostolic line to Christ bind or constrain shall be bound or constrained by the powers of heaven, what they free or loose shall be freed or set loose by the powers of heaven. Thus participation in magic as a priest confers the power to cast a spirit to the pit or to speak towards their freedom. These are therefore not simply idle elements of an abusive monologue set to confuse and terrify a spirit, it should actually be a tool the magician is capable of using if necessary.

When we consider magic in general this idea of being a key holder, of binding or loosening should be something we recognize as important beyond simply punishing or rewarding spirits.

When we consider the Greek Magical Papyri it becomes easy to notice that one of the key magical figures to pop up frequently is Hekate. During the time of their assembly she was seen as the Mother, as the Savior, and as the fundamental cosmic power behind magic by the authors of the Chaldean Oracles, and likely other mystical thinkers of the Mediterranean world. She was a power at the center of magic in the Greek world. In the Egyptian world Heka was the power which likewise underlaid creation and on whose basis magic operated.

A central figure of Hekate was her role as Key Holder. One who holds the keys may open and close the ways by which powers travel within the world. A key holder may lock or fix a thing into being or unlock or loosen things so that they may change. The power to bind and loosen is a central power to magic in general. Even within the magic of conjuration binding and loosening is significant beyond simply casting to hell or pardoning to heaven. The conjuration itself is a binding. The spirit is bound to act in a certain manner, and bound from acting in manners unamenable to the magician, it is likewise freed or loosed upon the world to act in ways suited to the manner in which it has been bound.

All this said, I should note that while being ordained a priest, I don't tend to make a habit of damning spirits to hell.

If you liked the line of thinking here you can find more in my book Living Spirits: A Guide to Magic in a World of Spirits. Please consider ordering a copy.

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*Image above from tv series The Exorcist which previously aired on Fox.