In the upcoming issue of Hermetic Tablet (Summer 2015), Jake Stratton-Kent has published an essay entitled, “The Other Magicians and the Goetia,” (adapted from an Internet post simply called, “The Other Magicians”), and I am about to spoil the hell out of it. It’s not that I want to steal Jake’s thunder, but I think this is a topic that needs discussion, and I’m not against shining my own spotlight upon it—especially since the subject matter has become rather important to my own path. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let me begin with a bit of explanation.
When modern students look at the most popular texts of classical Western occultism—such as the Key of Solomon, Lemegeton, The Book of Abramelin, Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, etc,—we often come away with the impression that they represent how magick was done at the time. However, we can easily forget a rather simple fact: the medieval/Renaissance European grimoires only reflect how one specific group of occultists did their work.
I talk about this at length in Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, where I discuss the origin of the Solomonic tradition among a class of clerical exorcists. Without a doubt, the methods of spirit conjuration outlined in the Solomonic texts reflect this origin: the view of all chthonic and nature spirits as “evil,” the imperious and arrogant manner in which the spirits are addressed, and the harsh methods used to force the spirits’ compliance—all of this arises from a culture of people who spent their days casting out truly demonic entities of sickness and ill-fortune from their clients.
Yet, the grimoires themselves have given us clues that this was not the only method of working with spirits—perhaps not even the predominant one. These clues reside in the condemnations the grimoires often make about… well… other grimoires. It would seem that each Solomonic mystic was convinced he was the real deal, truly connected to God and doing holy work, while “everyone else” was just engaging in diabolical enchantments. Here are a few examples:
“All the books which treat of characters, extravagant figures, circles, convocations, conjurations, invocations, and other like matters, even although any one may see some effect thereby, should be rejected, being works full of diabolical inventions. …and which be truly the inventions of the devil and of wicked men.” [Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Book II, Chapter 4: That the greater number of magical books are false and vain.] “There be certain little terrestrial spirits that are simply detestable; sorcerers and necromantic magicians generally avail themselves of their services, for they operate only for evil, and in wicked and pernicious things, and they be of no use soever.” [Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Book III: Essential remarks upon the foregoing symbols.] “No man is ignorant that evil spirits, by evil and profane Arts may be raised up as Psellus saith Sorcerers are wont to do, whom most detestable and abominable filthiness did follow, and accompany, such as were in times past in the sacrifices of Priapus, and in the worship of the Idol which was called Panor, to whom they did sacrifice with their privy members uncovered. Neither to these is that unlike (if it be true, and not a fable) which is read concerning the detestable heresy of old Church-men, and like to these are manifest in Witches and mischievous women, which wickednesses the foolish dotage of women is subject to fall into. By these, and such as these evil spirits are raised.” [Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book I, Chapter 39: That we may by some certain matters of the world stir up the Gods of the world, and their ministering spirits.] “Berith is a great and terrible Duke, and hath three names. Of some he is called Beall; of the Jews Berith; of Necromancers Bolfry…” [The Goetia of Solomon, Spirit #28] “There is extant amongst those Magicians (who do most use the ministry of evil spirits) a certain Rite of invocating spirits by a Book to be consecrated before to that purpose.” [The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, Liber Spirituum: a Book of Spirits]
As I stated above, these passages can make it appear as if each author was merely repudiating all of the other grimoires besides his own. However, as Jake points out in his article, the truth is a bit more complex. If we take all of the above quotes together (and these are only a few examples!), we can see a common thread running through them: there was a specific group of “other magicians” out there. They are commonly called “sorcerers,” “necromancers,” and “witches,” and they are accused of employing evil and diabolical spirits to achieve their ends.
Now, if you follow my work and/or that of Jake Stratton Kent, you already have an idea where this is headed. The word “goetia” is not merely the title of a late Solomonic text, but is in fact the name of a very ancient spiritual tradition. It originated with ancient Greek shamans (called goen) who became famous for their funeral services and magickal work with chthonic deities. Later, when the Olympian cult arose, the ancient magick was dismissed as an ignorant and primitive practice. As often happens when one cult supersedes another, the goen were demonized even as their practices were plundered for the newly urbanized religions. Thus were the “Western Mysteries” truly born—epitomized in such schools as the Eleusinian Mysteries.
By the time we reach the European grimoires, we find evidence of the ancient goetic tradition dispersed throughout the texts. The ancient religion of the goen was long gone, yet their magickal practices persisted and those who engaged in them were still being demonized, now with the terms “Necromancer,” “Sorcerer,” and “Witch.” (By the time the Goetia of Solomon was written, the word “goetia” had come to mean “witchcraft”—or working directly with spirits.)
you can read the rest over here: