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Abramelin xiv: ‘…the Forces intended to be attracted and propitiated by the Fetishes of the Negro-Race; are for the most part no other thing than the ill-understood manifestations of this great class, the Elementals. Among these, some, as I have before observed, are good; such are the Salamanders, Undines, Sylphs, and Gnomes, of the Rosicrucian Philosophy; many are frightfully malignant, delighting in every kind of evil, and might easily be mistaken for Devils by the uninitiated, save that their power is less; a great proportion are neither good nor evil, irrationally working either; just as a monkey or a parrot might act; in fact such closely resemble animals in their nature, and especially combinations of animals, in which forms distorted and mingled, would lie their symbolic manifestation’.
Colonial racism aside, the view of spirits is distinctly one sided; on the other hand Abramelin’s exclusive monotheist attitude to Elementals is rather worse.
Philosophically it is difficult to square a more enlightened ‘Restitutionist’ view with pessimistic conceptions such as the qlipoth. Modern magic needs to re-examine ideas about eschatology, and consider the philosophical difficulties arising from collecting ideas about spirits from incompatible sources..
Not so long ago, at a gathering of magicians, I performed a goetic rite heavily influenced by kimbanda, involving spirits I know and trust. Anyone who attended got a very good idea what these spirits like in offerings. Rumour has it that several folks were ‘concerned’ about the lack of resemblance to a generic western ceremony, and assumed this means its dangerous. Well, in a way I guess it is, non-placebos aren’t totally harmless. But for serious occultists all the pointers were there. Rumour again suggested that one or more attendees had seen spirits hanging around them since. What isn’t rumour is someone who wasn’t even there has offered free exorcisms!
Now lets get outside the generic Western Revival form of magic for a minute. Becoming a shaman usually involves an ‘attack’ by spirits who will become the shaman’s guides. Banishing these guys isn’t appropriate, so why is it that magicians are banishing crazy? Oh, there’s a spirit around, lets get rid. Looking for advice online on when *not* to banish doesn’t produce any hits. Its all about getting rid of spirits. Despite the improved status of African Traditional Religions among some of us, old-fashioned attitudes about spirits and possession is very much alive in the occult community. Get rid of spirits, buy more books! Phooey!
My advice to anyone who sees spirits after a ceremony where the offering style is spelled out, tries communicating and relating to the spirit, rather than going all hysterical and neo-colonialist about methods that break the cherished but not terribly productive ‘rules’ of generic modern magic.
As good as any place to start a blog is some kind of statement of intent and self introduction. Most magicians have an agenda, consciously or otherwise, and I’m no exception. An unconscious agenda often translates into likes and dislikes; a conscious agenda is more a philosophical position, its propaganda translates into promotion and opposition. What I promote is a sense of rigour in modern occultism generally, whether in my own particular sphere of interest or otherwise. What I oppose are tendencies running counter to that goal – in a word, fluffiness.
Fluffy tendencies in modern occultism are not all wrapped up in harmless tinsel and sugar. There is a whole tide of lightweight occult literature replete with ‘dark & transgressive’ buzzwords. Entire supposed traditions perhaps, and entire genres certainly, are supposedly justified by ‘artistic’ or ‘intuitive’ qualities, rather than hard core research, or recourse to primary sources. Let alone hard graft in the demanding sphere of traditional ritual magic. Nevertheless, we are assured, these works unveil the traditions of several different cultures at once, while also conferring dark, mysterious and sexy qualities on the writer, and maybe even the reader. If you don’t agree you must be deeply inhibited and obviously need to lighten up. If you do, then your wallet is probably substantially lighter already.
In fact disagreeing is not a matter of likes & dislikes, conservative or trendy, even right or wrong. Rather it is sad to see anything that serves Western magic so badly, and being applauded for it by the community it is letting down. Acquiescence comes in a variety of guises, and involves a variety of spheres. Not all are as obviously self deceiving as ‘dark fluff’; some are not fluffy at all. Obstacles to a rigorous and progressive occult community are more general and insidious.
A key area, I believe, is how we organise ourselves into groups, our approach to peer review, if any of either. ‘Magical orders’ are de rigeur, simply because they already were. How far do our current models promote the collective gaining of background knowledge, or the challenging or proving of new interpretations etc? The scientific and academic communities have much more efficient models in place; its not as if Freemasonry is the only way occultists have ever gathered. Is it only ‘Arcane schools’ that don’t involve peer review, testing of historical assumptions and so forth? Is it only leading occult authorities who don’t have to publicly debate, or submit their papers to each other?
Having mentioned academia, it is worth noting that the original Academy was where Plato’s school met, asked their questions, proved their case. Given the Neoplatonist roots of the synthesis underlying Western occultism, aren’t magical orders kinda nouveau as well as past it?
In our time the dividing line between noob and experienced in Western magic is fairly narrow, and relies principally on individual persistence and commitment, rather than living Western schools.
All pretension aside, in terms of ritual competence alone the average Haitian houngan could blow away most ‘hierophants’ I’ve encountered (or endured). False elitism is a repellent aspect of magical orders, pretentious and usually based on little beyond titles and paperwork.
Choosing the magical path involves accepting some very real demands upon yourself. In the West, where the magical tradition is little more than a tenuous revival, aspiring magicians are required to undergo a course of self education, not by authorities demanding it of them, but by necessity. Most ‘authorities’ are stuffed shirts, end of story. Self reliance and deciding on some criteria that suit your actual situation, rather than ‘the done thing’ is a good start. So is acquiring habits tending most effectively to self education. Identifying genuine sources, historical and otherwise. Good learning habits are useful tools, but are not actively encouraged by many aspects of occulture, to put it mildly. This emphasis on my part is about processing information effectively, rather than enforcing a rigid structure.
Enthusiasm can compensate for many things, but not for honesty. Exponents of a flourishing Living Tradition improvise very effectively – slimming down for practicality, building up for special occasions – without loss of identity. In our situation, this doesn’t make arty pretension a substitute for hard work. It may arise from the failure of the occult ‘Establishment’, but is no alternative to it.
Back to groups. Organisationally, so called High Western magic on the C19th model can involve lots of grades, titles and charters, but the truth is, there is no Living Tradition. Preserving a franchise based on omissions and errors of recent times doesn’t appeal to me any more than fluffiness does, and for the same reason. Intellectual honesty.
A committed sorcerer generally works harder on their own than an entire Lodge, and has better critical faculties. Secrets are one thing, asking questions another.
A tradition we’re hanging onto by our fingertips isn’t one to be too
complacent about. If we’d take this on board collectively it would be
a tremendous leveler, and might lead to getting some effective
spadework getting done between us, and make the term ‘brother this’ or ‘sister that’ a lot more meaningful. In the meantime, individual hard work and a clue about sources represent a strong hand.
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