(Inspired while meditating outside my hotel at night during a drive from Chicago to New Orleans to welcome the birth of my granddaughter.)
One Hundred Million years of life’s passion and desire,
Gifts of uncounted lives, condensed lust of the eons,
All squandered in seconds on our sad industrial pyre.
Endless oily black pavement, trucks’ engines sprouting fire,
Rushing through the night bringing tawdry toys to peons.
One Hundred Million years of life’s passion and desire.
The food stops’ lights are burning late, nutrition to be hired,
Feed on that food, speed on, your life can’t stop; waiting is for morons,
All squandered in seconds on our sad industrial pyre.
Each plastic bag ten thousand years of algae’s growth in mire,
Each stoplight shines with Permian years on fern ennobled lawns,
One Hundred Million years of life’s passion and desire,
Refinery flames and steel mill smoke all rise up in a gyre
To ensure that all our lives are bright and exciting to our neurons,
All squandered in seconds on our sad industrial pyre.
I ask the oil we burn so fast, what its soul requires?
What is the gift it gives to us, what do we owe the eons?
One Hundred Million years of life’s passion and desire
All Squandered in seconds on our sad industrial pyre.
An Elder Apprentice
An Elder Apprentice received an unexpected call to study Feri Witchcraft only two weeks after his sixtieth birthday. Accepting that invitation he has been a dedicated student for the last three and one-half years.
He lives in a suburb of a large midwestern city, with his wife and a small white cockatiel.
A few weeks ago, an undercover investigation was released showing egregious neglect and abuse of pigs by a farm supplying pig meat to the grocery chain Whole Foods. The investigator found regularly overcrowded conditions, workers abusing pigs directly, and filthy living conditions (contrary to popular belief, pigs prefer to stay clean) for the animals on the farm.
As audiovisual technology becomes more accessible to the masses, undercover investigations of factory farms are becoming more and more commonplace by animal rights and animal welfare groups, especially as the demand from consumers to have “humane” and “eco-friendly” products rises. The shocking thing about this particular investigation for many was the fact that the subject, Sweet Stem Farm in Pennsylvania, was identified as a “Step 2” supplier by Whole Foods.
If you’re not familiar with how Whole Foods brands their meat, they have a system they’re very proud of called “5 Step“, which allegedly places certain expectations and demands on farms that wish to supply Whole Foods. The system is multi-tiered but the gist of it is that animals on one of these “Step 2” farms are supposed to have conditions that are spacious, clean, and even (if you can believe it) entertaining for animals. As if this weren’t embarrassing enough for Whole Foods, their only response so far has been denying that any abuse or violations of their Step 2 code was found. They say that because animal rights activists took the footage, it is doctored with the intention of spreading the mission of animal abolition. While I have no doubt that the intention of these investigations is the abolition of animals from factory farms like Sweet Stem, the undercover footage speaks for itself. Whole Foods’ response speaks further. Once again we find an industry refusing to hold it’s accountable to it’s own “standards.”
This whole situation is an excellent example of the fraudulence of green capitalism. Green capitalism generally supposes that nature is a resource for profit that needs to be cared for, or none of this profit-making resource will be left. It puts forth the idea that supporting the reduction of harm to the environment and animals is only possible through the “responsible” taking of those resources. After all, only big industry could possibly have the means necessary to save the planet, right?
Green capitalism on the ground level relies on the emotions and good intentions of consumers to sell. It says “my product is so much safer for the planet than that other guy’s, so buy mine instead.” A great example is the businessperson who buys a brand new car every single year because every new model claims to have greater fuel efficiency and a higher reduction of emissions. Regardless of those factors the result is the same: someone who doesn’t need a new car every year buys a new car every year. More cars get put into the system and the demands for them increase with the industry intention of pulling people away from public transportation. In the supposed “greening” of the meat industry, the same thing occurs. The industry plays on the compassion of consumers who are willing to pay extra bucks for thinking that they’re not supporting cruelty while they shop. Sweet Stem provides an example of why this is often found to be a lie, but even if the investigation turned out to meet Whole Foods’ standards, the result is the same: animals living a life in the interest of a major corporation’s profits who are all killed at the end of the day to satisfy a desire for their bodies to become food. Animals lose their lives, humans are lied to about the process, and the corporation goes home with a cleaner brand image and fatter pockets. It’s clear to see who the winners are. Hint: It’s not people or animals.
How does this relate to paganism? Well, I think the major takeaway is that we’re easy targets for green fraud. A lot of us have an interest in helping the planet (which I say in the most generalized sense) and make it a point to explore actions that support that. Whether those actions are actually effective varies dramatically, but I’m sure you can see my point. We want to care.
This is where personal accountability comes in. The first lesson is learning that industry doesn’t care about you. Farms can’t care about animals when they are seen as property. Developers can’t care about the mountain when they see it as a front yard for condos. Men can’t care about women when they see their bodies as commodities to exploit. True care, I argue, must come from a regard for the internal value of that animal, that mountain, that person. As a witch who is also a polytheist in my religious life, I attempt to care about my gods (whether they’re concerned with that care or not) by treating their individual existence as valuable and worthy of praise. They stand on their own. I hope that my actions, ethics, and devotions can mirror that.
In a conversation many years ago, Druid author and priestess Emma Restall-Orr told me her thoughts on animals:
“My feeling is that it is all too easy to feel empathy with nonhuman animals in a sentimental way, and sentimentality is a very poor basis for ethical decisions … In truth, I don’t particularly like animals, or no more than I like trees, stars, rivers, pebbles: I respect their nature. A sound ethical basis, I think, has to be based upon honour, not sentiment. If Paganism is a nature-reverencing religion (and for the majority in Britain it is), then we need to live in a way which does honour nature.”
Green capitalism is insidious because it presents itself as honorable, although that honor stops where the dollar does. When we walk down a supermarket isle and see packaging that claims something is “eco-friendly”, it is not out of a sense of honor. It is based on playing off the sentimental sway of the consumer. How likely is a product to be honorable when it’s worth is based off it’s ability to fly off the shelf with speed?
I’m not here (today) to ask you to become a vegan like me, or to ask you to sell your car. Instead, I will challenge us all, including myself, to see past the the allure of industries that present themselves as eco, humane, or otherwise planet-friendly. As we say in the 2nd degree work within my coven, anything wrapped in assurances is worth another peak under the hood. Or perhaps more eloquently and classically stated: all that glitters is not gold.
David is a queer vegan witch and student of Feri based in Washington DC. His activism places a strong focus on animal rights (personally) and LGBTQ progress (professionally). He is author of two books: The Deep Heart of Witchcraft and Teen Spirit Wicca.
Three things govern the primitive’s conception of the dead person; He continues to live. He is powerful. He is at once well-disposed and malicious – Karl Meuli Gesammelte Schriften
The Hunt wasn’t always a Hunt, it used to be a Host; a carnival, a Mardi Gras, a parade of the dead wearing the flesh of the living. The Hunt came later with time and memory loss. Originally our youngsters would go out and live in the wilds and there they were talk to the dead, to the ungods of the landscape and to the gods themselves. During winter – possibly at the same time as their own initiation rites were taking place – they would put on masks, paint their bodies and return to the people from whom they had been sent to live apart from and for that time they would be the dead of the tribe.
Ancestor cults the world over either view the dead as beings to be feared or as beings with whom to remain in contact; they are often ambivalent about the living and as such, proper treatment and worship can keep them well-disposed to us. The prevalent attitude amongst the vast swathe of Indo-European cultures leans more towards the dead as having an interest in the living, as being concerned with them and their wellbeing as they are their own descendants and family.
This is the important thing; the dead bring fertility and abundance, whether as the ancestors, whether as chthonic beings or whether as spirits who live in the wild beyond human civilization. This transcends human cultures, occurs across the globe and in widely divergent peoples. Maybe the lines between these Outsider groups have blurred and merged in some cases, but the matter remains that the spirits beyond bring the fertility of the Land to us the people.
Traces remain in mid to late-winter practice and folklore; in Slavic countries, the festivities of Koliada and its variants have bands of people in dress and masks roaming towns singing and asking for hospitality. To do so is to bring blessings and good fortune. They represent the dead and Veles (the god of the underworld) who has sent them abroad at this time of year. Gwyn ap Nudd ‘in whom God has set the spirit of the demons of Annwn, lest this world be destroyed’; is a God who is associated with the hunt and this this raises questions about these demons. Peeling aside the Christian glosses, their identity has been suggested as being part of the andedion; agrarian spirits mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabála as the andée; husbandmen to the Tuatha De Danan. In the British Wild Hunts, we aren’t really given an identity for the entourage with Gwyn or Arawn, but it would be in keeping with continental and comparable sources for them to be the very andedion who strike the medieval writers of the Mabinogion with fear and suspicion. A quick jump across Eurasia to India and we have Rudra’s Maruts; a storm-riding host of warriors that have striking similarities and fit within the mythic framework of the Koryos as Wild Hunt. Most pertinently, they are seen as rain bringers. Over and over we can find elements of surviving myth linking the Wild Hunt, its predecessors, cousins and descendants as having elements of growth, abundance and blessings.
We can’t expect to reinstate the Koryos as it was to our ancestors, however we can try to breathe some life into a cultic arrangement which many of us already dance the edges of.
The Koryos as an institution was about outsiders; people who spent time away from society. Who immersed themselves in the things beyond; in the gods, the ungods and the ancestors. Their practices involved ecstatic trances, shapeshifting and masking. Their gods were the wild, ambivalent ones who lived in the dark, who trod the forests, who hunted and killed and who ruled the dead in the underworld. To many of us, this is exactly what we are doing now. We don’t work in contingents of our kin and we might not work in contingents of our closest friends, but we work with the dead, with the gods and we work outside in the forests, the hills and the wilder places where something refuses to let go despite our species efforts. We are already walking the same footsteps of our ancestors, albeit in different directions and along different paths.
Our gods arise from the landscape and all that lives within it; they are an integral part of it. Destroy the landscape and we cripple and destroy our gods. If we see others inflict damage, pollute and desecrate our gods – why shouldn’t we turn to those skills and practices to stop them?
The Hunt is as much a part of our landscape and our ancestors as it is us. We already run as part of the Hunt when we step beyond the edges of civilisation and go work our magic with the dead or dance with our gods. Regardless of where we run with the Hunt or what quarry we chase down, the important thing is that we join it, ride with it and fully embrace our place as outsiders and join the ultimate expression of being an outsider amongst our gods.
I laid out last month the intention of this working; to create a spirit house within a cairn to act as an altar, a cultic focus and a place of power at which we can call out to the Wild Hunt and to its Leader.
A Hound to pass between us and the Hunt.
Next month will be the final elements of the working, laying out the processes by which we empower the Hound and lay out the first offerings and calls to the Hunt. The final month will be December – the perfect month to perform this working as it is the traditional time for the Hunt to be abroad. I will describe and lay out how I empowered my Hound, raised its cairn and made the first offerings. With a framework in place, the aim is to set you off to do likewise in the appropriate fashion for your landscape, ancestors and Huntsman.
This month however, we shall turn to the cairn. It seems fitting that in the past few days here autumn has found us, the Indian summer of unusual warmth and sunshine has finally lost its strength and we have turned to cooler winds, russet golden trees and the first real hints that a darker and harsher season is advancing.
Part of the preparation for this working is going to be to find a suitable location for the cairn to be raised. As our intention here is to create something focussed on the beyond, the Outside, those from outside civilisation and beneath the Living, the site for the cairn should be outside of cities or towns and in the wilds. That said, there are suitable liminal spaces inside towns and cities if we live there. I live in a fairly central part of London, but I also happen to live alongside one of the old Victorian graveyards. Nunhead cemetery was opened in 1840 as one of the seven great graveyards created to ease the burden on burials of the time. It is around 52 acres (21 hectares) in size, and whilst a small number of burials are still performed there, by and large it has been turned over to a nature reserve. As such it is almost entirely mature woodland and has a thriving diversity of plant and animal life. It happens to be my favoured foraging spot; blackberries, sloes, damsons and feral grapes. The woodland areas have dirt tracks running throughout and it serves as a community space with a lot of people using it for walking themselves and their dogs. We also have some community events such as film screenings in the old bombed out chapel.
The cemetery is a wild place in the middle of civilisation. It is a place of the dead and of the living. I live right on its boundary; the end of my garden is a couple of feet from the closest burials. This is my perfect liminal space between the wild and the civil, between the living and the dead. If I am to create a space for the Hunt, to inter a Hound, this is the perfect place for me.
In creating a cairn for the Hound we will need to find stones from which to raise the cairn over the spirit house. On one hand, if the location allows it might be possible to simply lie the hound upon the soil and pile the stones above it to create the cairn, alternatively – and what I am going to do – it might be better to bury the Hound in a shallow hole (with suitable libations) and then raise a cairn above that. This second method will not only be less conspicuous, but will also offer a small amount of protection for the cairn should it discovered.
That is all that need be done for now; gather your hound, find a place for his cairn and begin any spirit work with that place in preparation.
Kershaw, K. 2000. The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbunde. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 36. Washington DC
Meuli, K. 1975. Gesammelte Schriften. Thomas Geltzer Ed. Basel: Schwabe.
Parker, W. 2007. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Bardic Press.
My religious name is Gilbride or “Servant of Brighid,” and so I am. However, I also engage in devotion to Macha, one of the three Morrigna. I first came across Morpheus Ravenna’s Shieldmaiden blog while looking for other devotees of Macha online a few years ago, and I’ve been following it ever since.
In a conversation with a very intellectual Catholic friend, I once argued that all religions have some distinct insight to contribute- not different routes to the same truth but different truths. Knowing me to be a pagan, he asked me what truth my religion had to contribute. I talked about Sovereignty and the goddess of “Sovereignty in action” – the Morrigan. All of my arguments drew on the Shieldmaiden blog.
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Book of the Great Queen ever since I knew it existed, but I wasn’t expecting much new information in the factual sense. As with any other Celtic deity, there is only so much available evidence. Some of the reader reviews I’ve seen were complaining that there was nothing new in the book, nothing you couldn’t find in one of the several other books about the Morrigan out there. Knowing how good the Shieldmaiden blog is, I assumed the reviewer had simply missed the depth of insight Morpheus brings to the available facts. In reality, the statement is just completely untrue. There is a huge amount of new material in this book.
First, Morpheus gives us the complete Old Irish text of every rosc or prophetic poem spoken by the Morrigan, with English translation and commentary. This information is simply not available in one place in any other book I know of.
Second, she gives us rituals and magic workings with text in Old Irish, drawn directly from these same poems. I don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with worshiping the Morrigan or any other Celtic deity in whatever language you happen to speak, but there’s something special about finally being able to do so in Old Irish.
Third, she references a few texts I didn’t even know existed, adding to the available evidence from the lore. Some of these texts are particularly instructive, because they tell us which classical Roman or Greek deities the medieval Irish saw as being similar to the Morrigan. It’s like an Interpretatio Romana from the other direction.
Fourth, she provides dates for all the known texts. It makes a big difference to know that a particular text was written down in the 16th century while another was written down in the 12th. Obviously the later text should be read more cautiously when looking for evidence about pre-Christian belief.
This is a substantial amount of new material, making this the most comprehensive work on the Morrigan to date. It’s hard to see how another work could be more complete unless new evidence comes to light. There are other good books about the Morrigan out there, but if you only plan to read one of them it should definitely be this one.
In addition, the theological commentary is everything I expected it to be. I’ve written a fair bit elsewhere about several points in the Cuchulain story that I found confusing if not upsetting. Morpheus tackles many of the same questions from a different angle, coming to conclusions I would never have come to and answering questions I couldn’t find satisfactory answers to. In ancient times, debate and discussion about myths and sacred texts was a major part of religious practice, and this is a significant contribution to the revival of such a tradition.
“The Book of the Great Queen” is definitely about religion rather than politics, but Morpheus makes compelling arguments for a connection between devotion to the Morrigan and political activism in the modern world. Morpheus never argues that devotees of the Morrigan have to be politically radical, but she does show how radical politics and devotion to the Morrigan make sense together. Agree with the politics or disagree, the connection is clearly argued and internally consistent.
To sum up – this book has a lot of material not available elsewhere, makes many insightful points and is essential reading for anyone who worships the Morrigan or any other Celtic deities. I recommend it without reservations.
I walked into a temple today.
The doors opened and lured me
Into the vapid shininess of the ever new
I ascended, drifting, on a cloud of chemical blossom
And the beehive below hummed with desire.
I was held up by a priestess.
She read my hands and shook,
Her eyes filled with pity for the lost cause
I had strayed too far, and understood my visit
As my final farewell to the flock.
I looked at the faithful masses,
Hanging on to the eternal summer
As they partook in communion in expense
Of loveless figures, they paid their homage dearly
In the hope of fleeting redemption.
I would extricate myself.
No longer would the almighty number
Define my name in the world of the living
Silently, I pondered the economy of autumn
And my worn shoes took me out.
I walked away, ever further.
When the city of men had faded
I hesitantly came upon a green cathedral
A delicious sweet rotten sainthood lay in waiting
I knew I had come upon holy ground.
I opened my eyes and faced death.
As I fell, a friendly woman whispered
In the rotten leaves of many blessed returns
To give freely and live and die in turn ourselves,
So others may live one fine spring day.
The pact between human beings and the spirits of the otherworld was one of the core ideas in Celtic religion. In ancient times, the king of the tribe was responsible for maintaining this pact and for suffering the consequences if he failed to do so. The violation of the terms of this pact leads to the loss of Sovereignty, and draws the wrath of the spirit world down on the offending ruler. I believe that our rulers have already lost the Sovereignty, and that the consequences of that loss are becoming more obvious every day. This poem is intended to be suitable for use as an offering prayer, asking the spirits to make a new pact with the people as a whole rather than with a particular ruler.
Jake Stratton-Kent’s Encyclopedia Goetica is a monumental achievement, but more than that it is of vital importance for practicing occultists, pagans, and all those who fall into both categories. A work spanning three official volumes stretched across five actual books, it is an invaluable addition to occult history, theory, and practice. I intend to offer, in this review, an extensive and careful consideration of the full sweep of the project but if you are waiting for the bottom line allow me to say at the beginning that anyone interested in western occultism and paganism must read these books. They are probably the most impressive occult works to be written in my lifetime.
The Grimoire Revival and Bibliotheque Rouge
First allow me to provide you with some context. One cannot fully appreciate the Encyclopedia without first understanding its place in the grimoire revival and one can’t consider this revival without considering the vital role played by the publishing company Scarlet Imprint and its subdivision Bibliotheque Rouge.
The grimoire revival is a movement made up of numerous practical occultists and occult scholars who are offering a renewed interest and investigation into the grimoire tradition in Europe and the Afro-Caribbean context. The revival is a diverse business but at its heart is the attempt to take seriously the full scope of mainly Renaissance and later popular occult works commonly referred to as grimoires and frequently claiming medieval or ancient origins. When discussing grimoire magic amidst most practicing occultists the immediate references are likely to be three well known texts: The Greater Key of Solomon, The Lesser Key of Solomon (frequently called The Goetia), and The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. The grimoire revival, on the other hand, seeks to expand its view to take seriously texts frequently underutilized or dismissed by the British and French members of the late 19th and early 20th century Occult Revival (for example Eliphas Levi, the members of the Golden Dawn such as Macgregor Mathers and, of course, Aleister Crowley). These texts include the incredibly important Arabic Picatrix, the Sworn Book of Honorius, the Black Pullet, the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, the Eighth Book of Moses, the Grand Grimoire, and the works which are Stratton-Kent’s focus: the True Grimoire or Griumoirium Verum, the Great Book of Saint Cyprian, the Heptameron or Magical Elements and the Testament of Solomon.
The basic argument of the grimoire revival is two-fold. First that the popularity of the three most well known grimoires has obscured some of their inadequacies and thus offered an incomplete understanding of the practices the grimoires are trying to teach and, second, that the neglect of other grimoires has kept us from actually understanding the historical importance and nature of the grimoires themselves. Stratton-Kent’s work, as in my opinion the central edifice thus far of the revival, offers a corrected historical understanding of the nature and role of the magic contained in the grimoires, a far more complete picture of the practical methods to be employed, and frequent corrections to the names and symbols of the spirits employed. It also offers an edition of its own of TheTrue Grimoire (completed through integration with the Grand Grimoire), Great Book of Saint Cyprian, The Confession of Saint Cyprian and the Testament of Solomon as well as numerous selections from the Heptameron or Magical Elements, the Picatrix and The Greek Magical Papyri amongst other texts.
The grimoire tradition, as pointed out by Stratton-Kent, primarily shows up in print in two main forms. These are aristocratic texts of primarily angelic magic of Qabalistic/Christian occult theory and the popularly printed texts of the Bibliotheque Bleue genre that were cheap publications for the general public from early modern France (between 1600 and the mid-1800s) with similar types of texts found in Italy, Spain and Portugal. Bibliotheque Bleue and similar publishing businesses offered for the first time texts affordable for, and aimed at, the general public amongst which were many of the “pulp” or “low” grimoires seemingly dealing with treasure hunting, the summoning forth of demons, and the like. As an outgrowth of the printing press, the appearance of these mass-produced texts was a highly important historical event with which the publishing company Scarlet Imprint has aligned itself with its Bibliotheque Rouge. While Scarlet Imprint prints high-quality (and expensive) occult works as beautiful as they are important Bibliotheque Rouge offers affordable copies of the same texts for the general use of the public much as Bibliotheque Bleue did. If Bibliotheque Blue gave rise to the grimoire tradition in modern Europe as we know it, Bibliotheque Rouge seeks to give rise to its rebirth. The occult world is greatly indebted to Alkistis Dimech and Peter Grey, the founders of Scarlet Imprint and Bibliotheque Rouge.
The General Argument
Stratton-Kent’s general argument is the following: The grimoires represent a survival of primarily ancient pagan occult and religious practices over which a thin veneer of Qabalah and Christianity has been added. This veneer, including its talk of demons and angels, can be stripped away to uncover the true pagan occult tradition beneath the surface of the texts. This reveals that the grimoire revival, at least as far as it appears in Stratton-Kent, is at the same time a great pagan revival which recognizes pagan religious practices at the very heart of all of Europe’s occult tradition and history. Magic, to put it too simply and bluntly while perhaps overstating the point, is really pagan and was dressed up in monotheist clothing for many reasons including practical political concerns such as avoiding the stake.
The full scope of this argument will involve tracing the grimoires back to The Greek Magical Papyri, restoring the central role of necromantic dealings with spirits of the dead to occult practice, and exploring the promising connection between the use the grimoires have been put to in an Afro-Caribbean context preserving the native paganism of the Americas and Africa beneath a Christian cover and the actual origins of the grimoires themselves in a similar process. Ultimately we find the grimoire practices to consist of a surviving ancient shamanism like that practiced by ancient goetes (a Greek term from which goetia derives, frequently applied to non-aristocratic wandering magicians practicing a pre-classical form of ancient paganism).
Outline of the Encyclopedia
The Encyclopedia Goetica consists of three volumes: The True Grimoire; Geosophia: The Argo of Magic, From the Greeks to the Grimoires; and The Testament of Cyprian the Mage. The first consists of one book and the second two volumes consist of two books a piece. The first and last volume (The True Grimoire and The Testament of Cyprian the Mage) are the most practically minded and focus primarily on exploring actual grimoires and their underlying meaning. Ultimately The True Grimoire is the text most easily applied to occult practice and I have used aspects of it over the last few months with rather striking results. The Geosophia, on the other hand, is the most theoretical and historical of the volumes and lays out in excellent and careful detail the nature of the ancient shamanic tradition of the Goetes that Stratton-Kent is uncovering in the grimoires. The True Grimoire and Testament will teach you how to do things while the Geosophia teaches what exactly you are historically doing and why.
The True Grimoire
Stratton-Kent starts his Encyclopedia with an investigation of the TheTrue Grimoire for several reasons. First, as he convincingly argues, it is the most complete version of the original lost text or collection of sources/traditions on which The Lesser Key of Solomon, a.k.a. the Goetia, and the Grand Grimoire are both based. In fact, The Lesser Key is likely derived from The True Grimoire. (It is worth noting, however, that Stratton-Kent rejects the ultimate claim that there is one originating text that is the true Key of Solomon which has been lost, instead he presents the idea that the title Key of Solomon marks more of a genre with interconnecting sources.) By combining The True Grimoire and the Grand Grimoire Stratton-Kent is able to complete the full spiritual hierarchy of the original manuscript with a total of 79 spirits and the full meaning of their differences in rank and relationships of authority, ruler to subordinate. This clearly deflates the common attempts (in which I have participated myself) to correlate the 72 spirits of The Lesser Key of Solomon with the 72 angels and names of God derived from the Qabalistic Shemhamphorasch. This, similarly, removes one common piece of support for a monotheistic understanding of the grimoire tradition while deflating the focus on The Lesser Key of Solomon.
Second, The True Grimoire includes practical methodological details lacking in the other versions of the text. The two key aspects here are the presence of an intermediary spirit used to get in touch with all the other spirits of the text and the use of the “Armadel” method about which I will say more in a moment. The intermediary spirit is known as Scirlin who acts as the door-keeper and messenger of the other spirits. Stratton-Kent is quick to point out the overlap here of the intermediary role played by figures such as Legba and Exu in Afro-Caribbean traditions; Janus, Hecate and Anubis in ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian traditions; and, of course, the Holy Guardian Angel in The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. There is also an overlap with the role played by Uriel in another part of The True Grimoire entitled “Divination by the Word of Uriel” in which the angel is used to contact any spirit (though likely primarily the spirits of the dead, considering Uriel’s frequent role as Angel of Death) the magician wishes. This use of an intermediary is, Stratton-Kent argues, an ancient pagan methodology whose neglect both obscures the ancient pagan pedigree of the grimoires and impoverishes the coherence of the ritual procedures of texts lacking it.
The Armadel method is largely what we have come to understand as skrying: the use of a bowl of water, ink, crystal or mirror for the attainment of visions. In The True Grimoire this method is used by calling spirits into the skrying surface, a practice which plays such a large role for example in the Enochian work of John Dee and Edward Kelley. This presence of skrying in The True Grimoire is important for several reasons. First, it allows the text to offer two methods for contacting spirits: the standard evocation using a traditional circle etc. and the use of skrying. Second, it shows up in The True Grimoire as one of the first and oldest presentations extant of the method in the grimoires thus stressing the important of this particular grimoire for occult history in general. Third, and finally, it offers yet another tie to the ancient pagan world.
The discussion of skrying brings us to one of the central pieces of Stratton-Kent’s overall argument, namely that the grimoires represent the survival of occult methods found in the ancient Greek Magical Papyri that themselves, Stratton-Kent later argues, represent preservations of even older pagan religious practices. I will say more about this second part of the argument in my discussion of the Geosophia but, for now, let me discuss The Greek Magical Papyri and the presence of skrying within it along with Stratton-Kent’s fascinating speculation as to the intermediary role skrying plays within the history of the development (or decline) of pagan religion.
The so-called Greek Magical Papyri are a collection of magical texts dating approximately from the seven hundred year time period stretching between the second century B.C.E. to the fifth century C.E. The papyri are the product of several different periods of cosmopolitan cultural interaction and blending throughout the Mediterranean region deriving largely from the cultural unification provided by the conquests of Alexander the Great which lead to the exceptionally culturally diverse Hellenistic period of Ancient history and, of course, the complex cultural mixing of the Roman Empire. As the product of these cosmopolitan eras the papyri are not exclusively, or even individually, Greek despite their common name. They are written primarily in the Greek, Demotic and Coptic languages making them just as much Egyptian Magical Papyri as Greek ones and there are signs of both translation from Egyptian languages into the Greek and from Greek into Egyptian languages. But even this dualism is inaccurate as the texts are almost entirely syncretic, i.e. they openly contain and unify elements of almost every culture and religion involved in the cosmopolitan eras from the obvious Greek and Egyptian to Hebrew, Christian, Roman, Zoroastrian and many other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures besides. It is not at all unusual to find in them, in fact it is rather the standard procedure, Hebrew and Christian names of God and angels blended with invocations of Apollo and Horus.
It is Stratton-Kent’s argument, and a pretty conclusive one at that, that the Grimoire Tradition is a survival and development of the eclectic blending of traditions represented in The Greek Magical Papyri. In the Geosophia he will go further back in history to investigate the nature and origin of the Papyri practices themselves, but for now this should be a sufficient discussion of the subject. To establish the link between the early modern grimoires, especially The True Grimoire, and the Magicial Papyri Stratton-Kent focuses on the topic of skrying, i.e. the Armadel method. This method shows up extensively within the Magical Papyri and in a form closely resembling that of The True Grimoire. Most simply the method is as follows: the magician or the magician and a seer that has been selected for the job sit with a skrying surface (water, ink, mirror, crystal, etc.) and an intermediary spirit is called into the surface (Scirlin, Uriel, Anubis, etc.). This intermediary then brings forth at the magicians request the other spirits whose presence is desired. The unification of the intermediary spirit and the Armadel method are, as Stratton-Kent explains, a central structure of The True Grimoire and likely also a missing or unstated key aspect of many of the other grimoires. In the Magical Papyri there is usually a bit more involved in this ritual. The intermediary spirit, once it appears, is first asked to set up a ritual scene. Often the request is for the spirit to set up a banquet with a set amount of chairs and so on. Then the spirit invites in a company of the gods, or spirits, to feast and celebrate after which the desired spirit can be spoken to for whatever purposes the magician has in mind. This method can similar be applied to the spirits of the dead as well. What makes this aspect so fascinating is, as Stratton-Kent points out, the extent to which it provides the performance of a full sacrifice and pagan ritual without the use of an actual temple, offering and so on. In other words, it places the role of pagan priest into the hands of the magician and allows a full large-scale religious ceremony to be performed in one’s own study. One can see the value of this, for example, for pagans living far from city centers with their own temple precincts and staff of priests or for those living in a context (political and social) which no longer facilitates or allows for the full practice of old collective pagan ceremonies. The common occult method of skrying, then, arises from a development, or decline, of standard pagan ceremony once the open practice of the various cults of the gods became for many reasons no longer as accessible.
These elements of The True Grimoire allow Stratton-Kent both to make a powerful argument that the entire grimoire tradition must be understand from the foundation of the Magical Papyri and that the practices from those Papyri are necessary to complete the missing elements of the grimoires. It also makes clear the pagan, or at least wildly syncretic, nature of the grimoire tradition though the argument will push beyond this in the Geosophia.
On top of this complex and powerful argument, Stratton-Kent’s The True Grimoire is useful because it provides us with a completed version of the text and system along with extensive discussions of the origin of various important spirits. This unpacking of the origin and nature of the grimoire spirits continues throughout the Encyclopedia Goetica with, for example, an extensive investigation of the spirit Astaroth and her (yes, her) derivation from the Semetic goddess Astarte, her relationship to the Sumerian goddess Inanna and the Greek Hecate and Artemis, and so on while the first book of The Testament of Cyprian the Mage contains similar extensive investigations into the history, derivation and nature of spirits such as Asmodeus and Oriens.
Finally The True Grimoire concludes with a discussion of the connection between the grimoires and Afro-Caribbean traditions in the Americas including a brief presentation of the influence and overlap of spirits from the grimoire with the Exus of the Brazilian cult of Quimbanda which derived several of its symbols for the Exus from the symbols for the spirits in The True Grimoire.
The two volumes of the Geosophia are exceptionally rich. In fact, I can’t help but understate the impressive achievement these books represent. Were the rest of the Encylcopedia nonexistent the Geosophia would stand as an invaluable work on pagan and occult history in its own right. I have studied ancient culture and philosophy extensively at both the college and graduate levels, I have presented and published on ancient philosophy in an academic context, and still there was much in the Geosophia that was surprising, innovative and exciting. If I were to criticize the work it could only be for containing too much – it is a work that requires repeated and careful study – and so I cannot hope to offer anything near a complete presentation of its content. It will have to suffice to present those key aspects I found most interesting and valuable while presenting those necessary elements for carrying Stratton-Kent’s argument forward. Before I do so, however, let me point out that those of my readers who are most interested in pagan religion, practices and history rather than the contemporary use of grimoires will be best served by the Geosophia rather than the other works. You are bound to find some rather striking insights about the history and nature of Ancient Mediterranean paganism.
The overall purpose of the Geosophia is to offer in investigation into the history of goetia and its origins understood as a distinct occult and religious tradition. The books themselves are organized via an investigation of the journey taken by Jason and the Argonauts as presented in the Hellenistic epic the Argonautica written by Apollonius of Rhodes who was a librarian at the great library of Alexandria. The mythic journey of the Argonauts provides a basic structure to the book as it provides a narrative line allowing Stratton-Kent to investigate the history and traditions related to the various heroes involved, locations visited and events undergone in the text.
The broad strokes of Stratton-Kent’s investigation is the uncovering of the nature of the goetes, or ancient shamanic magicians from which the term Goetia derives, through the presentation of an extensive conflict in the ancient world between Chthonic and Olympian religion. The main argument is that the older religion, from which much of the mystery cults derive as well, was primarily focused on the earth, underworld and spirits of the dead. It was also largely a localized religion with distinct variations based upon the history, heroes and gods of given populations. These ancient chthonic religious variations were also, if I might say so, largely the religion “of the people”. With the rise of the city-state, however, new political forces attempted to achieve cultural unity and power via a transformation of the more diffuse local cults into the official Olympian city centered religion of the Classical era.
The move from Chthonic to Olympian religion transformed the character and meaning of many gods, and some of the most important older gods were also derided and given lower rank in the new pantheons. I’ll offer two of Stratton-Kent’s main examples though he offers numerous careful and important aspects of this process. Apollo, now known as a sun god of the Olympian pantheon, doesn’t really seem to fit this role. Stratton-Kent points out, for example, that Apollo is primarily depicted with a silver bow that is a rather odd accouterment for a sun god. It seems to more easily fit a chthonic or lunar correspondence. Furthermore, within the oldest depictions of Apollo, for example that of Homer, no mention is made of Apollo’s solar nature but instead he seems to be depicted primarily as a warrior god of disease. In Homer the only sun god discussed is Helios, which of course provokes the question why another sun god is necessary. As a darker more Chthonic warrior god of disease we see Apollo’s older meaning before it was transformed into that of a solar god.
The god Hephaestus undergoes transformation as well, and this transformation is central to Stratton-Kent’s argument. Hephaestus is a rather laughable character in the Olympian pantheon. He is crippled, the gods are often literally depicted laughing at him, his wife cheats on him with other gods, and so on. This official role, however, belies his massive importance and widespread popularity as a very important god in local cults. In fact Stratton-Kent argues that Hephaestus is one of the most important gods of the older Chthonic religion and ties this into an argument that the older religion and its wandering goetes practitioners derive from the religio-magical cults of metal working tribes throughout the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern world. This is, similarly, the origin of the classes of prophetic and metal working heroes-become-gods known as the Dactyls which feature prominently in Stratton-Kent’s argument. Phrygia plays a central role in this regard.
As Stratton-Kent presents it, the practice of the goetes predates and extends well beyond Greece and Rome while, nonetheless, providing the basis of both civilizations’ original religion. It is for this reason that I keep using awkward phrases like “Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern religion” rather than talking about, for example, Ancient Greece exclusively. Stratton-Kent’s history and vision refreshingly extends well beyond these stifling and artificial boundaries. We see this, for example, in his connecting the origin of Apollo to the same origin of the angel Michael, namely the Canaanite warrior and plague deity Reshef.
Stratton-Kent’s argument expands beyond gender boundaries as well as regional ones. He focuses extensively on a discussion of each of the numerous female prophet-sorceresses known as the Sibyls. Here we see the goetes as female and male regional and traveling shamans.
In his Introduction to The Greek Magical Papyri Hans Dieter Betz describes the content of the Hellenic and Roman period papyri in the following manner:
“In effect, it is a new religion altogether, displaying unified religious attitudes and beliefs. As an example, one may mention the enormously important role of the gods and goddesses of the underworld… it is characteristic of the Hellenistic syncretism of the Greek magical papyri that the netherworld and its deities had become one of its most important concerns. The goddess Hekate, identical with Persephone, Selene, Artemis, and the old Babylonian goddess Ereschigal, is one of the deities most often invoked in the papyri… Hermes, Aphrodite, and even the Jewish god Iao, have in many respects become underworld deities. In fact, human life seems to consist of nothing but negotiations in the antechamber of death and the world of the dead. The underworld deities, the demons and the spirits of the dead, are constantly and unscrupulously invoked and exploited as the most important means of achieving the goals of human life on earth…” (The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation p. xlvi)
One way to understand Stratton-Kent’s argument is to see that while Betz’s description of the character of the culture of the papyri is correct he is incorrect in the suggestion that this represents a new religion. Instead, Stratton-Kent demonstrates, the papyri represent something of a survival and renewal of the old Chthonic religion which predates the official religions of the various cities and nations of the Classical era. Of course the syncretism of Hellenism and Rome add new names and dimensions to the practices, but it is important to recognize the extensive syncretic nature of the earliest aspects of the old Chthonic religion as well.
To return to the grimoire tradition, then, we can say that if the grimoires represent a survival of the tradition of the Magical Papyri and these papyri similarly represent a survival of the pre-Classical religions then the grimoire tradition of goetia is the continuation of the Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern’s oldest, even, primordial religious practices. The oldest religion, then, is goetic magic and it is deeply necromantic, focusing extensively on dealing with the dead. In this regard we can state that the spirits of the early modern grimoires such as The True Grimoire are each one of three things. They are elementals, spirits of the dead especially past heroes, and pagan gods and goddesses, keeping in mind of course that frequently these categories overlap with gods having elemental aspects or being derived from the deified dead.
Amidst the process of presenting this larger historical narrative Stratton-Kent offers us innumerable valuable insights and details about magical and pagan traditions and practices. Amongst these are, for example, the argument that the role played by two recurrent types of magical operations in the grimoires are not at all what they might seem. The grimoires frequently include types of magic to find buried treasure and achieve invisibility. Stratton-Kent presents the interpretation that these are, in fact, the remains of old rituals of shamanic import designed to achieve access to the underworld. The underworld, traditionally populated with various guardians and dangers, could be accessed through spells to find “buried” (i.e. underworld) treasures and the protective role of invisibility which would allow one to sneak past, as it were, the underworld guardians. A similar fascinating discussion revolves around the history and role of volcanoes as doorways to the underworld and the unique genre of volcano magic that shows up in the grimoire tradition. Stratton-Kent provides interesting examples of this volcano magic.
Finally, as an additional step in the movement from the magical papyri to the early modern grimoires Stratton-Kent discusses the role of the 10th or 11th Century Arabic grimoire the Picatrix and its presentation of astrological occult lore including, for example, the lunar mansions and planetary hours of the day and night. Towards this end Stratton-Kent inserts into his text useful selections from the Picatrix itself.
The Testament of Cyprian the Mage
Where The True Grimoire represents the French and Italian segments of the grimoire tradition the move to a discussion of the several grimoires related to Saint Cyprian serve the role of shifting to the Spanish and Portuguese aspects of the tradition that have played a massive role in influencing the occult traditions of the Afro-Caribbean and South America. Stratton-Kent’s investigation of the history of Saint Cyprian, the several grimoires connected with his name, and the question of what would have influenced the thought of and populated the book shelves of the mythical Saint Cyprian and the compilers of his history provides Stratton-Kent with the opportunity to discuss the history stretching from the writing of the Magical Papyri to the Renaissance beginnings of the grimoire tradition proper.
The goetic tradition derives its negative connotation from an extensive history of rather literal demonization. The spirits and gods are turned into demons and the practice itself is set off from “respectable” occult practices. The start of this division is the war between the Chthonic and Olympian religions in the ancient world but its Hellenized and early Christian version arises in the conflict between goetia and its generally neoplatonic opposite, theurgy. Theurgy is generally understood to be the art of uniting with gods or God, climbing as it were the ladder to the heavens, while goetia is commonly understood as the art of working with demons and is grouped along with necromancy, or working with the dead. We get here a clear contrast between the higher and lower, the divine and demonic.
The contrast between theurgy and goetia is, however, the history of a deception as Stratton-Kent’s work in Geosophia has well prepared us to see. If the origin of the “demons” of goetia is gods and the deified dead then goetia is frequently about contact and/or union with the divine. Another distinction between theurgy and goetia is based on the “lowly” or worldly nature of goetic goals. But, as Stratton-Kent demonstrates, theurgy often enough aimed at various worldly goals as well while, on the other hand, goetia can be understood to itself have higher religious and eschatological goals (and, of course, most of the lowly worldly goals of goetia are hardly what they seem). We can see this particularly clearly when we consider that theurgy largely develops from the mystery cults of the ancient world while these cults themselves developed from the earlier practices of the goetes.
Allow me to offer an illustration of some of the eschatological/religious goals of goetia that have to do with the nature of the dead and the underworld. In Homer’s depiction of Odysseus’ journey to the underworld we get to see the fate of most of the spirits of the dead. In general the dead find themselves in a rather sad state, they become speechless and personality-less shades. But this is not the fate of all of them. The prophet Tiresias, for example, is able to maintain his wisdom and identity in Hades along with many humans who become unworld judges and other honored figures. This becomes a main goal of the ancient mystery cults and goetia, the ability to maintain one’s full existence into the afterlife. The path to this goal was often laid through a process of “dying” in life through initiation and shamanic visionary experience. When one visits Hades while alive one prepares to remain, in some sense, alive when one goes there in the afterlife. This is the sense in which not all souls are immortal but one can become immortal through proper magical training and experience. It is worth noting there is a strikingly similar argument in favor of the benefits of philosophy that Plato’s depiction of Socrates offers in dialogues such as The Republic and the Phaedo.
We see methods for achieving this after-life immortality in goetia, mystery cult and theurgy alike. In regards to this Stratton-Kent offers a rather interesting discussion of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles and his claim that his philosophy could make people immortal. Rather than responding in the common way that many philosophers do and take this as an absurd exaggeration on the part of the philosopher, Stratton-Kent takes it seriously as addressing the otherworldly immortality that goetic practice can provide.
The other aspect of this goetic necromantic working with the dead involves the “higher calling” of helping those who have died without the benefit of proper preparation. In other words, one of the key works of the goetes is the “laying of ghosts”, i.e. bringing about the “salvation” of the unhappy, violent or listless dead – these most often include those who have died from violence, without appropriate burial rites, or prematurely before their roles in life had been fulfilled. As the goes can prepare the way for herself and others in finding advancement in death, so too can the goes do this work for those who are already dead although the process is likely much more difficult. This provides goetia with a truly noble role in the negotiation of the relationship between living and dead.
The connection between goetia and the salvation of the soul can be uncovered as underlying the most demonized of all if its aspects in the Christian context, the role of the infamous “pact with demons”. Stratton-Kent makes clear that this pact in the grimoires is best understood along the lines of the concept of “conjunction” with divinity. This can be considered from several angles. First, magic throughout its history from the ancient world through to the 19th and 20th century occult revival has always been understood to involve the identification with gods and heroes. We become one with the gods through their invocation, literally by “calling them in” to us, and magic is largely achieved through the power that union with the gods and spirits brings about. This goes hand in hand, of course, with our own spiritual improvement as well. When we form a pact with a spirit we join with it and are improved through this conjunction. Far from the dark contract through which one sells one’s soul to achieve worldly benefit, the pact involves a loving joining with a frequently more advanced spiritual entity. We see this process perhaps most clearly in the Afro-Caribbean traditions in which rather striking unity with gods and spirits is the fundamental aspect of the tradition’s methodology.
The discussion of the grimoires and texts associated with Saint Cyprian locates itself soundly within the war between Christianity, Theurgy and Goetia because several of these texts are written with the goal of rejecting and demonizing Goetia. Despite this, Stratton-Kent is able to draw extensive insights into the practice of goetia from these texts.
There are a few other practical aspects to the content of The Testament of Cyprian the Mage that I would like to mention. First let me mention one that I found particularly provocative, namely the inclusion of a discussion of twenty-fours fairies, their characteristics, and their identification with stars and constellations. I found this to be an exciting and unexpected bit of grimoire lore which is, at the same time, very useful. Stratton-Kent also includes an extensive discussion of the 36 astrological decans and their connection to the spirits of the grimoires. There is also a continuation of the effort to clarify and complete the understanding of the spiritual hierarchy begun in The True Grimoire through a careful analysis of the Kings or Chiefs and the almost entirely lost Queens of the grimoire tradition. This involves the rather interesting and complex problem of there seemingly being three different orders of these: a triple rulership of an alchemical or astrological nature along the lines of the alchemical sulfur, mercury, salt; and two quadruplicities overlapping with directions or elements. Finally, the second book of The Testament of Cyprian the Mage ends with the inclusion of the complete fascinating text of the The Testament of Solomon dating from sometime between the 1st and 5th Century C.E.
The Meaning and Purpose of Grimoire Hagiography
In the course of the full argument of the Encyclopedia Goetica Stratton-Kent points to an interesting and important answer to a rather basic question. There is no chance that Solomon or anyone from his supposed time period wrote the texts on which his name appears (in fact, current archeology suggests Solomon likely never existed at all) nor is it likely that St. Cyprian wrote any of the goetic texts that carry his name. Why, then, do these grimoires carry the names they do? The obvious and common answer is that connection with these names provide an air of tradition and authority to the texts. But there is a deeper answer. A key aspect of goetia as presented by Stratton-Kent is, as discussed, the conjunction with the spirits of past heroes and for a magician past heroes include especially past magicians. For the ancients this might mean identification with Tiresias or one of the Sibyls, but for the later European traditions it meant identification with the named patrons of the grimoires. The various keys of Solomon or works of Saint Cyprian or Abramelin the Mage might be less about authorship and more about the spirit through and with whom the work of the grimoire can be accomplished. Taking the next step in this, we can draw from Stratton-Kent’s books the idea that even the names Solomon and Cyprian are themselves place holders for older goetic magicians and their spiritual patronage.
Concluding Questions on the Nature of the Reality of a Spirit
I hope that I have adequately expressed my immense respect for this work and my appreciation of its exceptional importance for both practical occultism and paganism. Despite the extent of this discussion I must stress that I haven’t even scratched the surface of the rich treasures the Encyclopedia Goetica offers the reader. I would like to conclude, however, by raising a question that is equally theological and practical concerning the message and application of Stratton-Kent’s work. This is not a criticism of his work, as he hasn’t directly addressed the point I will raise, but rather seeks to take the next step in considering the import of his work.
My question is a simple one, what is the full import of Stratton-Kent’s genealogy of the various demons, spirits, and gods? This question can’t really be answered without asking the metaphysical and theological question concerning the nature of the reality of spirits and gods. If we are dealing with individual existing personalities with natures and names of their own independent of any human conception then those who have addressed Astaroth as a male demon duke in a monotheist context (as in the image above) have simply been wrong and likely have insulted the powerful entity with which they have been trying to deal. We might not get the sense that a whole lot hangs on this point, but imagine the implication of Michael and Apollo’s identification with the warrior god of plague Reshef. Have the many many people who have addressed Michael as an angel and Apollo as a sun god simply been misaddressing and/or insulting the entity Reshef? Shall we do away with Apollo and Michael both in preference for Reshef?
Those who hold to the idea that the gods and spirits are archetypes and/or mental constructs taking on independent power through the investment of the energy of the believer can address this issue easily enough. Archetypes can be understood to “nestle” and undergo evolution and transformation such that the solar Apollo and Michael, the chthonic Apollo and Michael, and Reshef can all co-exist and be worked with individually. Stratton-Kent seems much more to favor a traditional understanding of the spirits as real existing entities independent of human determination, though on this point I may indeed be wrong.
From the standpoint of the independent self-determined reality of the spirits we can offer, I feel, three main possible understandings of the message of Stratton-Kent’s work. The first I would call the reductivist response that would indeed say that when dealing with, say, the solar Apollo people have actually always been trying to deal with a chthonic god instead and that this misidentification accounts for any amount of failures on the part of the practitioners. The message, then, is that if one wants success (and, indeed, safety from insulting a powerful and dangerous entity) one had better toe the line and treat Apollo properly.
The second understanding might see the different names and natures of the spirits and gods as different roles just as I fill the role of writer, teacher, researcher, practicing magician, husband, friend and so on. In addressing Reshef, the solar Apollo, the chthonic Apollo and so on I am addressing an entity as unknowable as my own one ultimate identity (if such a thing exists) via its various names, titles, roles and so on. This solution, however, seems to cut against the grain of Stratton-Kent’s general tone that many people have gotten the nature of the spirits wrong in various ways. Of course, you could misidentify some of my roles and names but we might wonder how we could know that we had done so on the part of a spirit or god? Perhaps only through experimentation and observation of what gets results.
The third answer is, I feel, the most interesting and would be based on the suggestion that the spirits in question have themselves had a role in their own naming and conceptualization. The gods/spirits reveal themselves, and so Apollo has offered us different aspects of his own nature and perhaps even changed on his own part over time. This more seriously raises the question of whether we can be wrong about the gods, or must we take all concepts as derived from them originally? I suppose this conception still leaves open the chance of judging the concept from its practical outcome.
This question ultimately raises the issue of the relation of different approaches to the spirits to each other. In other words, how does the historian of the occult and paganism relate to the worshiper/practitioner? Say I have performed rituals to the solar Apollo and had deep and meaningful experiences of Apollo’s solar nature. How am I to take Stratton-Kent’s suggestion that Apollo was originally of a very different nature? Stratton-Kent, of course, occupies both the role of practitioner and historian but let us put that aside of the moment. How is historical knowledge to relate to spiritual revelation? This is, in fact, a conversation I had with a fellow occultist while reading the Encyclopedia Goetica and excitedly explaining Stratton-Kent’s argument about Apollo, Michael and Reshef. My friend responded, rather directly, that it just didn’t match his occult experience and, so to speak, “history be damned”. Once again, it may be that results are to be the arbiter here but they must be personal results since the reports of others are hardly going to be persuasive for me when so hard to verify independently.
Personally I will say that despite the short time I have had the Encyclopedia Goetica I have used several of its methods and suggestions with striking and impressive results and I have found the insights it provided invigorating. Practically I have absolutely no criticism. Historically, I have found the argument persuasive and am more convinced than ever that the true Western occult tradition is fundamentally a pagan one in which the grimoires play an essential part.
Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem .
Last fall I had the privilege of returning to the Berkshires for a weekend of community, celebration, ritual, and discovery. An annual event for over 20 years, it was a weekend of working together to support our individual journeys in preparation for the coming months of darkness, a prime time for deep inner spiritual work. I’ve participated in this gathering on four occasions, and each has been a rich experience: some more enjoyable than others, some more effective than others. I’ve had my buttons pushed in good ways and bad. I’ve had realizations about myself and what it means to connect to community. I’ve felt frustrated and deeply grateful, ecstatically connected to all beings of the Earth, and at times, profoundly alone. I’ve complained about and filled with pride at belonging to such a community of diverse people and practices. Every year I leave with a bit of this and a touch of that tucked inside, waiting to be unpacked upon my return home.
Each year the weekend culminates in a ritual designed to reach into the hearts of the participants and pull out some insight to help determine the needed spiritual work for the coming dark season. Previous years’ themes include the abundance found in knowing that you are enough, dissolving the ego and reintegrating into the web of life, and the trap created by the belief that you know what the pattern is. This year’s ritual was different: instead of focusing on the individual self, it centered on the needs of our dying Earth and encouraged a personal, magical, spiritual response.
The ritual was long. It was physically demanding, it was at times very cold and uncomfortable and it was difficult. It had been orchestrated with the intent to reach deep, to the part inside each person that is vitally concerned with the future of our species, of all species, of our home on this planet. As a Pagan, a Goddess worshipper, a nature worshipper living day-to-day, it is very difficult to forget the evidence of that harm, even as my own life is livable, and enjoyably so. In ritual space, wide open to the spirits and the energies of the Divine in all things, it was impossible to ignore the reality of our planet, of those who call Her their home, of the suffering caused by the still-somehow-functioning machine that drives our global culture of consumption.
I was not alone in this ritual. Besides the dozens of unseen hands responsible for building and holding the container, many more walked before me, behind me, and a few beside me. I do not know what occurred in those hearts when faced with the strenuous and often-provocative points along the path. I only know what outward behavior I witnessed from many: bantering, silly comments and inane chatter during the moments when we were invited to sit and connect with the trees on the sacred mountain under the cold stars and half moon; the deterioration of sacred space into a mundane autumn bonfire despite the sincere efforts of the magic workers to maintain the ritual atmosphere; people snarking and laughing in the face of the deep work we were given the opportunity to do. I kept searching for a quiet place or for others who felt the weight of the work, who understood the solemn intent of the ritual and who were seeking to connect with the energy of the Earth. I’m sure there were others like me, but they must have been lost, too.
Some of those beside me were likely new to ritual, and on some level they cannot be held to the standard of understanding and behavior a seasoned practitioner would be; perhaps they were afraid or ill-prepared to handle such heavy, deep work. Some were experienced practitioners who are simply ego-driven and likely disappointed that the ritual was not the self-focused working typically offered at this annual gathering. And some were people who I’d thought would know better than to turn away from the answerless questions that the ritual, the magic, the Mother Earth asked us to consider on that lovely starlit night.
And so, fellow Witches, Pagans, energy workers, magic makers, I ask you: whatismagicfor? Is it simply a means to attain what personal desires drive us? A currency to exchange for goods? Must we receive personal benefit from our magical efforts? At what point do we look at ourselves and our practices, and acknowledge that our personal spiritual work will not heal the damaged ecosystem? When do we get smart enough, or scared enough, to use our will and our energy to work to stem the tide of destruction that is taking place right now, under our noses, in our names? If not in the context of an amazingly well-constructed ritual container, the product of dozens of hands and minds and hearts, where will we find the ability to connect to the very real needs of our Mother Earth?
I came down from the mountain grateful for the comfort of my soft bed, for my family pressing close to welcome me home, for the connection I feel to my bit of urban landscape. And, I came back afraid for the future of our planet and for our species, for if the magic worker cannot be trusted to act in the face of the evidence before us, if we cannot be called, then who can? Who will?
This is thankless work, and not everyone is prepared for it; not everyone is mature enough for it; not everyone wants to do it. And yet, it must be done. If not by us, then by who? What will it take to encourage action, if not the love of the beauty of the green Earth, the white Moon among the stars, the mysteries of the waters? We are being called to arise and to go unto Her, to be strong, agile, wise, courageous, and compassionate in whatever capacity we are able. We are being called to act in community, on behalf of the community of innocents who have no voice.
I came down from the mountain with a question pressing on my heart: Whatismagicfor? The only answer I can find is to commit to this work: to connecting to the Earth beneath me, to listening to what She asks of me, and to taking action in Her name. By the Earth that is Her body, I sincerely hope that the seed planted in ritual months ago takes root in those who walked with me in sacred space and that we all can grow in community, for the good of all.