Sapere Aude: Magic without Fluff
Sapere Aude ("dare to know") offers a hard-core, unsentimental, no-nonsense look at the ins and outs of magical practice.
Goetia Basics - Getting Started
I decided when I started to blog that I would write about various magical topics that interested me at any given moment. That means this blog is likely to be something of a mixed bag. I"ll take requests if someone wants me to write about a specific topic, but otherwise, my posts will be about whatever I've recently discussed with colleagues and friends, or whatever I happen to be reading or most interested in at any give moment. Today that topic of interest happens to be the Goetia.
Having started out with strong alliances with the archangels, it was a very odd thing for me to initially approach the Goetic spirits. It took me a little bit to learn the appropriate protocol and to learn that it really was a matter of 'as above, so below.' In fact, I found it rather like learning to speak a different dialect of a common language. I suppose some may wonder why I bothered shifting my practice to include Goetic magic, but magic is, in part, about establishing and nurturing alliances and the Goetic spirits are powerful allies.
Someone asked me recently why doing certain rather emphatic magics had such an impact on one spiritually, energetically --what my northern tradition colleagues and allies might call 'wyrd' -- but going to an ally and bringing offerings and making a request didn't, even when the outcome was the same. It's a good question because in both cases there is power being moved. It seems that when one channels one's will through an independently sentient interlocutor, there is a buffer between the intent and the act. After all, that interlocutor always has the ability to refuse. Is the magician still ultimately responsible? Of course, but the navigation and balancing out of one's wyrd costs far less.
The way I was trained, the first few years, even the first decade or so of magical practice is all about learning to make oneself a conduit for power. It's about honing one's will and focus, learning to sense and tap into flows of power, learning how to create reservoirs of power, how to sniff it out, and then how to move it, channelling it through the lens of one's intent. The mental filter one creates, that mental lens provides the coding language that the energy raised and manipulated then carries into the wyrd. It tells it what to do and how to alter the threads. This is heady stuff so the mind must be clear, the will focused, the body trained.
Eventually though, once that foundation is established and very, very solid, there's a whole other level to magical practice. Eventually the complement to using one's own power, and the power one may personally channel is to establish a network of allies, to whom one can go when need arises. In my book, it's the magical equivalent of Yin and Yang: these two methodologies work together in perfect, powerful harmony. A huge part of active magical practice is not only making but most importantly maintaining one's alliances. A good network of alliances is something that can take years to build up and even longer to learn how to appropriately manage. What's more, developing a network of allies is part of becoming a person on the planes of power. Someone without allies, without any type of power-network, simply has no personhood of which to speak there. They do not exist in any meaningful capacity.
Now, I think it's pretty obvious from what i've written here, that I don't subscribe to the common attitude of many Ceremonial and Goetic magicians, the attitude that I am absolute master of these beings, and have a right to command and control them without regard for their sentience. I've never found this particularly useful or effective. I'd much rather court a being who will be a willing and helpful ally, than coerce a being who will drag his heels and look for every means of slipping the bonds I put upon him. It takes a bit more time (and a bit more minding of one's manners) doing things my way, but it's damned effective, more so I believe in the long run, than the master-servant route.
I think an awful lot of magicians get blinded either by the lens of the Western, monotheistic culture in which we live, or by New Age ideas. Neither is particularly effective in both my experience and opinion. Part of my magical training was having those paradigms ripped away from me and it was the best thing that ever happened. I will admit that in my work, (and this holds true for many in my lodge) we tend to throw ceremonial traditions on their head. For many of us, it was drilled into us ver early on that the trappings of magic and summoning are but a lens through which we might access certain technologies. They're not the technology itself, but a warped lens. They're imprinted with the particularities of a specific time, culture, and place and in our case they're quite often rooted in Judeo-Christian mores and theologies. These mores and theologies have embedded within themselves a paradigm of control and coercion - as I said in a recent article at my blog, and as one of my first teachers would be quick to point out, the same type of paradigms and attitudes that brought us the Doctrine of Discovery, the Conquest of the Americas, colonialism, and the destruction of countless indigenous traditions (including our own if we go back far enough). You'd think by now as magicians that we'd have hauled our heads out of our collective butts and rethought the whole thing but we keep doing the same old, same old and reinforcing those self-same paradigms with their attendant ethics, morality, and hierarchy of being. I fumbled around this way too for a long time, I'll admit, before eventually sorting myself out.
Now, magical theory as i was taught tells the magus that he or she is in complete control of the sacred space. S/he is the personification of "God," a microcosm of a greater hierarchical macrocosm. It is through this assumption of divine personification that the magician becomes imbued with the power to summon other beings. Traditional magical theory also has it that Goetic beings are dangerous and the magician must be sure to stand within his circle, maintain his little triangle and behave like a pompous git. Think about it. What happens in that circle is a clash of worlds, a clash of realities, a clash of beings. One is being superimposed upon the other, or (to use another analogy, perhaps a better one) suddenly, the worlds two very disparate beings move in become like a set of Venn diagrams, with overlapping parts. That overlap is where the work is happening.
Part of the problem stems from the idea that all of these non-human beings are there for our edification, that we are entitled to command them. I've seen magicians treat their allies worse than dogs. They're ordered about, summoned without recourse, set to stupid or dubious purposes, threatened, coerced, and sometimes tortured. I"d be pretty irate were I in those circumstances. Fortunately my teachers decided to go about it a different way and this was the way I eventually adopted. We decided to approach the Goetic tribes with respect and we've had amazing results. Of course they are not Gods so we do not bow or behave in a pious fashion before them, but we're polite and courteous as we would be (i hope) to any guest invited into our homes, especially one with whom we wished to court an alliance.
Here are a few things we do differently than the norm.
Firstly, we do extensive divination before any type of summoning work, to determine if this rite is warranted, whom we ought to call, what offerings ought to be given, and when a good time to do the working might be.
We're polite. While we could coerce, instead we invite and we have offerings of welcome waiting. (After all, if an honored guest came to your home, wouldn't you at least offer him or her something to drink?).
We avoid posturing and instead lay our case out clearly and concisely. Just like us, these beings may have places to be and things to do. Time is of the essence and nothing is more annoying than dilly dallying or wasting time.
We try to remember that they're allies not errand boys.
We don't abuse the alliance.
Summoning can be a means of introducing oneself, establishing, and working/maintaining an alliance or it can be an act of supreme arrogance. I suppose it can fit into many a shade of grey in between too. More and more though, I am concerned about maintaining an appropriate mindset when I do my work, one that facilitates alliances without in anyway yielding one scrap, one iota of power. It can be done, though it takes thorough knowledge of oneself and one's skills, and tremendous and deeply ingrained confidence. My understanding of Goetic beings is that they maintain the flow of things here in the physical, material world. Just as the angelic beings are responsible for maintaining the smooth running of the cosmic "program"…I like to think of them as systems admins….really, really scary systems admins …so the Goetic beings are responsible for doing the same in the purely physical world. I live in the purely physical world and in my book, that makes them allies worth courting, not servants, not slaves, not lesser beings than I, but allies; and that understanding has come to inform much of my magical practice.
I will not be posting again until the first week of August. I am participating, along with many members of my House in the polytheistic month of silence. I had thought it was perhaps overkill but then I attended a ritual this weekend, just this past Saturday, that decided the issue for me. I hope my American readers have a good July 4. See you in August.
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