The magick of the Medieval "grimoiric" texts has long mystified and fascinated the people of our culture. Especially in the 1980s, we saw the rise of knights-in-armor role playing games and fantasy literature, even a fad for "choose your own adventure" books, literally overflowing with wizards and natural magick. Even today- on television, film and print- we are presented with images of white linen robes, arcane sigils, and the utterance of Names in long dead tongues. We see magickal circles, tools crafted in tribal fashion, mysterious rites, and daring sorcerers summoning forth demonic princes from the mists. Very often obscure books are credited for the magick, even said to be alive themselves, and given names such as The Key of Solomon or the Grand Grimoire.
Such is the manifestation of classical occultism in modern pop culture, especially that of my own early years. When I began my studies of the magickal arts, I found I possessed a natural inclination toward the romanticism of renaissance and Medieval literature and philosophy- especially in the realm of magickal practice. However, I quickly learned that such information was difficult to acquire. I had discovered enough information to be on the look out for various names (1): The Key of Solomon the King, the Goetia, the Three Books of Occult Philosophy, The Magus, the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, etc. Over the next few years I gathered these very titles, attempting to gain a view of the realities behind the cultural legends. The problem I then faced was a difficulty in understanding them; they were presented in such a befuddled and obscure fashion as to seem impossible on a practical level.
Advice from others was no help at all. My Neopagan peers only warned me away from the texts- reciting the same old, and rather stale, stories of Necronomicon and Ouija board infamy. They also spoke cryptically about the Judeo-Christian nature of the texts (a big negative in those times), and the horrible manner in which innocent spirits were browbeat into servitude by the Solomonic practitioner. My colleagues in the ceremonial communities merely chuckled at my interest, and suggested I not get myself mired within the superstitious prattle of uneducated men from the past. In many cases, it was strongly implied that any magick from before the early twentieth century was useless today. So the classical grimoires languished on my bookshelf, existing as historical curiosities more than anything else.
In the meantime, I pursued interests in the Qabalah, and Hermetic magick; as well as studies of the ancient Middle East (especially Egypt, Canaan, and Mesopotamia). All of these areas of study proved useful later- as we shall see in this book.
Still, the older texts called to me, even if their Medieval language was incomprehensible. It was after many years of off and on searching that the breakthroughs began to occur. I attribute these breakthroughs to a few specific events:
First, I took a serious interest in the art of summoning (or evocation)- especially the Angels from the Qabalistic Tree of Life. It is perhaps needless to state that this interest was born directly from my romance with the classical grimoires. While I could not yet use the older texts properly, I was lucky to have access to the study and practice of modern techniques - such as the methods taught in Modern Magick, or the evocation rite buried deep within Israel Regardie's The Golden Dawn. With these sources at hand, I set out to become proficient in the rites. I moved forward slowly, by trial and error, and it eventually became impressively effective.
Though these techniques differ in many ways from the Medieval traditions I wished to experience, they still succeeded in grounding me in "the basics" of spirit work. That is, those specific points of practical technique that are universal to all forms of magick. By doing this (i.e.- by actively experiencing the process of evocation), I learned much about the nature of spirits, and how to interact with them from a practical standpoint. To an extent, I was even able to begin making heads and tails of the grimoires themselves. I began to recognize the procedures that the two traditions held in common; and, eventually, I began to draw from the Key of Solomon the King and the Goetia, making use of their prayers and conjurations where I could in my own ceremonies.
The Angels and earth-bound spirits slowly emerged as living beings, with existences and agendas distinct from my own. Angels, especially, tended to come and go as they wished; and when I petitioned an Angel for help with a problem, my environment reacted strongly. At times the ceremonies were not even necessary on my part. In general, the Angels called upon me with lessons, guidance, and information much more often than I used the ceremonies to call upon Them. I found that I had developed a very recognizable relationship with the Intelligences of my natural environment, and they have exerted their Will upon my life as much as I have done toward them.
This was entirely different from what I had been taught to expect. Modern descriptions of evocation are most often based upon a "summon-question-banish" formula, while the classical texts describe a system of ongoing relationships with individual spirits. The more I understood of this, the more sense I was able to make of the Keys. My performances of modern rituals such as the Pentagram and Hexagram in conjunction with the grimoiric invocations became uncomfortable "breaks" to the flow of the Rites. The grimoiric methods struck me as something akin to tribal shamanism, rather than the ceremonial magick of today. The two systems of modern and Medieval magick are from different times, and are ultimately based upon entirely different principals.
The next piece of the puzzle fell into place when I entered communication with other experienced mages via the Internet; especially through an e-mail list dedicated to "Enochian" magick. I had long felt drawn toward this magickal system: a form of Angelic summoning that promised to make the more common Qabalistic methods pale in comparison. I had a number of books that focused upon the Golden Dawn and Thelemic versions of the magick, and only two that addressed the original system as recorded by the Renaissance magus Dr. John Dee, and his skryer Edward Kelley (2). The only problem was that these men lived in the late 1500s; which placed their work with the other classical grimoires, and made them just as incomprehensible.
Through the mailing list, however, I found myself connected to the top minds in the field- true scholars who knew the material and its history, and practical occultists who had put their knowledge to use. Most importantly, they studied the system in its renaissance origins. They knew the meanings behind the obscure Elizabethan language of Dee and his Angels, and they were happy to teach me all I would learn. Eventually, I became much more familiar with Medieval and renaissance culture and literature. I could comprehend the texts, and even take part in the studies and scholarship of the others on the list. A veil had finally been lifted from the obscure English (somewhat akin to grasping the language of Shakespeare, or the King James' Bible), and I could progress to study all of the classical texts.
At last, I felt a call to put one of the grimoires to practical use. The grimoire of choice was a heavily involved Angelic summoning ceremony, which included several months of ritual purification and invocation. One of the first instructions in the procedure was to enter a half-year study of the grimoire itself before attempting the Rites. Doing so allowed me to organize the instructions and practical secrets hidden throughout the book into workable notes; as well as to gather and assemble the various tools necessary for the magick. Directly experiencing the process in this manner, and being forced to delve so deeply into the writing itself, taught me much about how such magick works, and how the authors of the classical texts were thinking. As luck would have it, two final events occurred in my favor within that study period. These experiences completely altered my magickal world-view, and ultimately made my performance of a purely grimoiric Rite possible. The first event in question was my introduction to the Afro-Cuban faiths of Santeria and Palo-Mayombe. The second was my study of Agrippa's Three Books of Occult Philosophy. I feel that these were the most significant factors in my eventual understanding of the classical grimoires.
I will save the results of that research for chapter two, which is itself concerned with the subject of magickal world-view, and the relationship between the magick of the grimoires and tribal shamanism. Before we continue, however, I would like to outline the factual history of the classical grimoires, to counterbalance the romantic mythologies described above.
Aaron Leitch 2002
1. A book entitled A Dictionary of Angels, by Gustav Davidson, offered me much information- in the form of provocative looks at many grimoiric texts. Don Kraig's Modern Magick also offers glimpses of two texts, along with an introductory course on summoning spirits, or "evocation," from a modern standpoint.
2. These were The Enochian Magick of Dr. John Dee, by G. James, and The Complete Enochian Dictionary, by D. Laycock. A third book, Enochian Magick for Beginners, by D. Tyson, was not yet published.
Copyright © 2002 C "Aaron Jason" Leitch.