A few years ago, I asked Jake Stratton-Kent if the old gods were corrupted by their association with the demons in the later Grimoires and if using the originals rather than their later demonised shadows was better. I am posting his answer with his family’s permission. Reading this letter, it is great to hear his voice again.
This issue is more apparent than real. Firstly, the Grimorium Verum is a much more ‘spirit friendly’ or ‘spirit positive’ grimoire than many others. It also conjures the spirits by their superiors often as not, rather than by ‘thwarting angels’, and this precedent is paralleled elsewhere. Employ or imitate these features.
Secondly, regarding ‘demonisation’, what is often not considered is when?, Who? and how. Once these are answered, the issue is revealed as far more apparent than real, especially in practice.
When was the demonisation done?
Answer: During the Late Pagan/Early Church period. This means the pagan and Jewish equivalents demonised are easily identified and their roles, habitations etc, readily established (Neoplatonist and Theurgic models, many of them retained by people like Agrippa). This establishes that there is no difference between ‘third order angels’ and ‘demons’. They’re both in the same subsets as labelled by sympathetic and unsympathetic types (and several of the sympathetic types are Christian; the religion in question isn’t a fault line as such).
In most cases, the demons are derived from elementals (firstly as understood by the ancients, then again on Paracelsian lines). These are of more than four types, the four corresponding to the ‘spirits of the Air’ in four directions associated with the elements and the stages of the solar and lunar cycles.
This is another big clue about the hierarchy. The big three equate somehow with the Sun, Moon, and Winds. There are further associations with the sublunary sphere, including the Moon itself (the Gate of Hades – see Geosophia), the four mentioned already, plus ‘on the Earth and Under the Earth’ (not to be confused with the ‘aerial’ gnomes). Thus, lunar, four elements, terrestrial and subterranean (Underworld Sun) are the real categories to be considered.
The lore surrounding these transcends barriers like ‘pagan’, ‘Christian’ and ‘Jewish’. We don’t need to divide the strands like that. These spirits belong to a collective mythic narrative, wrap your head around the mythic context, and whose theology a given example borrows from recedes in importance.
Magic is unorthodox
Don’t think magic is orthodox, whatever religious trappings it may have. Don’t forget that Myth is Myth; it has a definite context & language (inc ‘syntax’) that is virtually universal, especially among cultures with a syncretic relationship for thousands of years. Calling myths Christian, Jewish, or Pagan doesn’t necessarily divide the subject matter. In fact as regards spirits, it rarely does.
How were they demonised
This brings us to ‘how’ the spirits were demonised. There are several answers to this. One is ‘ineptly’, and there are many signs of the original or alternative contexts/meanings.
The second answer is more surprising it is ‘not particularly’. If there was a demonisation process, it didn’t begin with the Christians or even the Jews. The pagans were rather cautious around certain types, which applies very much to the spirits employed in magic. In fact, it comes with the job.
(One reason the Headless Rite is such a good preliminary is that you identify with one of the biggest, scariest ones, which boosts your power & authority. You don’t have to act like a bully once you get the spirit’s attention, but identifying with Mister Fierce & cunning first is a definite help!)
Many spirits (angels included) were highly ambivalent; the pagan context usually involves protection and some forms of coercion (often dropped once the spirit complies; it is then greeted politely and thanked for coming).
This brings us to what I suspect are the real sticking points, names, and identities (including ‘associates’). Here I have to say, what is the big deal? So Lucifer and Beelzebub weren’t meant as terms of endearment – we still have (or can have if we pay attention) a damned good idea who their earlier identities are, and as regards the current ones, well ‘sticks and stones…’
(Have been called faggot, freak, grebo, nerd and all sorts of other things in my life – most of which I wear with pride, thank you very much).
So, be selective about what conjurations, etc you borrow, and investigate good substitutions. I don’t like several of the examples in Honorius, with their Saints, relics, Mary’s milk etc – so – shock, horror – I don’t use them.
Even so, some of them, particularly the conjurations of the Kings are perfectly usable, maybe need a minor tweak (and forget that ‘change nothing’ rule, the authors changed everything they touched).
A fair amount of the time, the use of Jewish names isn’t nearly such an issue (hint, they’re used extensively in the PGM, so why make a deal out of it in the later grimoires). The model there is not Jewish, but syncretic – shock horror Jewish names can be used in a pagan context and even vice versa – check the sources if you don’t believe me.
Sometimes Christian names aren’t going to be an issue either (like Saint Cyprian, for instance) – and there are cases where a name means something other than its common usage in other contexts suggests. I’m not convinced Adonai in the late grimoires has anything to do with biblical usage.
The ‘by the superiors’ examples in several grimoires are perfectly usable. Just get over the idea that ‘Lucifer’ or ‘Belzebuth’ are insults – and use another name instead of Satan, which is the only problematic name in the genre.
Then we come to the wealth of viable and often better-crafted material from the PGM… There is also a certain Golden Dawn initiation rite adapted by Fat Eddy and dovetailed with Verum by Skinny Freak.
Two last points: one: stop thinking such and such is a problem in advance – in practice, it may well explain itself perfectly naturally and make a deal more sense.
This can happen with any ritual. I once found the scripts of Bill Gray’s rites off-putting for completely different reasons. Once I participated in a couple, my first impression vanished entirely. Now, I recognise him as one of the greatest liturgists modern magic has had. Different context, of course, but the same applies, get over a priori objections, ‘suck it and see’ instead.
Secondly, accept loose ends and untidiness; we’re too used to systems where all the tables are neatly ordered, and things are rigidly – and lifelessly – categorised like butterflies pinned to a board.
This isn’t the way things are. Some gods, angels, and spirits (select type at random, same applies) are just plain ambivalent – the same guy can be conjured for protection once, for wreaking havoc another. Empowering an amulet one time, warded off with an amulet on another. That’s just how it is (the same demon can inflict or cure the same disease, for example).
Some characters have demonic and divine guises, all equally apt or at least authentic. Tracking back, we often find figures we started out placating and ended up seeing as a protector (probably from older versions of themselves)! Allow this diversity; restrain your neatening tendencies. They place limits that aren’t necessary or, in many cases, desirable either.
Now go and sit next to Damon Prete and be good.