A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Spirits, Demons, and Djinn, Oh My!

A while back the blogosphere was ablaze with debates on the nature of the demons that are often called upon by magicians and sorcerers. These debates tended to revolve around the Goetia and the spirits within and included a variety of points of view. Some claimed that these spirits were flat-out evil and corrosive. Other claimed they were benign while still others argued that these spirits’ nature was actually going to be a direct result of how we dealt with them--approaching them in hostility would breed hostility, while respect would breed respect.

I tend to agree with the latter approach; however, there was one rather nuanced point-of-view that was entirely neglected. This involves the very cultural origin of the spirits in question.

What many occultists tend to forget is that the spirits of the Goetia and many of the spirits commonly called upon in today’s Western Magical Traditions have their source in two places: Graeco-Egyptian Magical traditions and the spirit traditions of the ancient Near East.

The Graceo-Egyptian magical traditions provide the syncretic system by which these spirits are often contacted; so we find that such texts like the Greek Magical Papyri and the Corpus Hermetica became foundational to how later generations would approach spirits and where they fit in scheme of things. Evidence of this can be found in the combination of ceremonial and folk magic approaches found within Goetic works. Further evidence can be seen in the use of intermediaries to call the spirits to you and help grant you authority (Holy Guardian Angel, Anubis in Graeco-Egyptian rites, and Scirlin in GV).

While the Graceo-Egyptian magical traditions show us the methods by which we approach spirit work and indeed forms the basis of a great deal of Western magic, it is the Near Eastern traditions that provide us with the spirits, entities, and their natures.

To understand this let us examine the archetypal figure of the Western Mage, King Solomon himself. According to legend, King Solomon was the mighty and wise king of Israel and son of King David. In biblical accounts, the Lord favored him with wisdom while other accounts go on to say that he was granted a magical ring from the Archangel Michael that helped him tame “demons.” He then employed these entities to help build the Temple (cf. Testament of Solomon).

Now the word used here is “demon” which comes from the Greek word “daimon” and translates to “spirit.” This word has no connotation of good or bad, but merely refers to a spiritual entity. To denote an evil spirit a “κακός” would have to be added to the word.

Etymology aside, in order to understand the entities of Solomon we’d have to look at the context that they arise from. King Solomon is a Near Eastern king who ruled in Israel. Like the surrounding regions, early Israelite religion held a belief in a spirit-world inhabited by entities that were created by the Lord just like man was. In this worldview, these spirits were not generalized as “evil” or “good” but rather were seen as complex entities that interacted with the mortal realms. Each of these entities had a personality all their own and so you’d run across those that hung about your house, or those that wanted to do you harm. Depending on the spirit’s nature you’d either attempt to placate or ward off its influence, or you’d want to cultivate and include that spirit in your life. Magicians would approach these spirits by means of offerings, pacts, and alliances. As life itself dictates the magicians would cultivate an alliance with both chaotic entities and the more benign classes.

This view of the spirits as being an integral aspect of Deity’s creation, was often overlooked by Medieval and Renaissance mages who took these Near Eastern entities and filtered them through a Christian dualistic paradigm where everything was either from God or the Devil. Hence you have the transformation of these entities into beings that are either “angelic,” or “demonic.”

It is my belief that this transformation fails to take into consideration the history and origin of these entities while also giving us a rather fragmented and confused way of approaching them. Basically you have Near Eastern spirits being approached in a non-Near Eastern way. What results is a system that treats these entities as slaves and demons that are meant to be tamed and constrained. This approach is extremely limited and fails to take into consideration the very nature of the spirits involved.

To better understand these spirits we need to return to their source, as hinted at by the legend of King Solomon. We need to look at how the magicians and peoples of the Near East view these entities. To do this, we turn to the people of Near East where such traditions are preserved in the folk magical traditions and the traditions of their magicians (North Africa, Arabia, Israel, the Levant, and Mesopotamia).

In these regions we have a class of entities that inhabit a place in between the world of the divine and the world of mortals. To these people of the Mediterranean and the desert they are the djinn. A race of beings created by God (or gods) and who represent an invisible world of primal forces. Some of these beings are chaotic while others were rather docile and helpful. What is important is that they are not classed into good or evil, but rather viewed like humans as having the capacity for both. They can be tricksters, or they can be helpers.

These djinn lived in a world that intermingled with ours with a tendency to be drawn into the human household where they lived as house spirits, or in places of power like the desert. The term “djinn” comes from the word, “ijtinaan” meaning “concealed from sight.”

According to the Qur’an they were created from a pure flame that has no smoke. (Qur’an 55:15). This view is actually reflective of an older folk tradition that indicates that by being of pure flame and air, they are creatures of intensity, passion, and power. In other words they represent the primal powers of nature and psyche.

These beings have the power to take on any shape they please (Hadith related by Abu Hurayrah), have knowledge of the arts (Qur’an 34: 12-13), and are associated with magic.

So how do the people of the region treat these spirits? The answer is with respect. Djinn were believed to live in one’s house and so the people of North Africa often leave little offerings for the spirit of the home to have that spirit protect them. In Arabia if the djinn appeared as a serpent in one’s home it is asked to kindly leave, and never killed. The snake is captured and put outside. In early Israelite religion, talismans were placed up around the house to ensure that only benevolent spirits could enter the abode.

Magicians on the other hand would make contracts with several spirits of a variety of natures that would be approached with respect, but confidence. It is for this very reason that there is a higher rate of magicians in these regions with palpable powers of thaumaturgy than here in the West. I know magicians who could write a persons name on a piece of paper, draw a pair of eyes, sprinkle some heated sand into the paper, fold it up and burn it in a spirit-pot and within the hour the target would be blind. I have seen magi who have dolls and statues inhabited by these spirits and these effigies actually become animated and walk and talk and these are but two examples of some of the effects this magicians can accomplish. All because these spirits were approached in a way that made them willing to help the magi. Even the most chaotic of djinn are approached with respect in the spirit of alliance. For it is believed that if one knows the proper etiquette that these djinn will turn their chaos from afflicting people randomly, or afflicting the life of the magician, to instead working with the magician to afflict his or her enemies.

In other words, these entities aren’t treated as abhorrent monsters that would ruin one’s life, but rather necessary and important aspects of Creation. That isn’t to say that when an entity steps over a line, or becomes destructive that they aren’t dealt with sternly. Just as the magicians of the Near East learn how to create alliances with these spirits, so too are they as versed in exorcising them. After all, Iblis (Satan) is of the rank of djinn. This approach to spirits is also seen in the African magical practices which inform the ATRs, where both “hot” and “cool” spirits have their place and are accorded respect.

But what is the point of all this? The point is to illustrate that in order to properly work with the entities cataloged by the grimoires, we need to understand their nature. These spirit are djinn. They have the capacity to be benevolent or chaotic. Both are treated with respect and both are approached by means of creating a symbiotic relationship. By offering the respect and acknowledgement that they are due, these entities are transformed from unwilling servants to powerful allies. What results from this symbiotic and mutually respectful relationship is that you have at your side an entity who’s hands are untied to work the wonders spoken about in the grimoires. But to do this, we need to approach them in a manner that is more copasetic with the spirits themselves.

This approach is not new, it is merely neglected. Jason Miller, a highly respected sorcerer and teacher of the Strategic Sorcery class, mentions that after meditation, offerings are the second practice he values most--something he learned from his time studying another tradition known for its effectiveness and profound connection with the spirits, Tibetan spirituality. Jake Stratton-Kent also puts forth this approach in his edition of the Grimoire Verum where he highlights the nature of the pacts mentioned within and their implications to the relationship between magician and spirit--something that was influenced by the ATRs. Franz Bardon also alludes to working in more copasetic way in his Practice of Magical Evocation. In hoodoo and conjure this alliance system can be seen in the way graveyard spirits are paid for the work they do.

In this case, I am not saying that we need to be informed by the Near Eastern Practices, or the ATRs, but rather we need to return these spirits to where they originated from and work with them in a fashion more align with the culture that gave birth to them. The reason that these other traditions seem to have such wonderful success is two-fold:. One is the respectful nature of the contract that they develop with these spirit, or in other words the workings of an alliance. And the second is that they keep to the roots and principles of their traditions without muddying the waters.

In summation of this rather lengthy discourse, it is my contention that in order to properly work with the spirits of the grimoires and to truly tap into their potential power we must approach them from a position of authority, but with an offering of respect and develop a relationship where both spirit and magicians benefits. Ultimately, the proof of this approach lies with its results, something that can readily be seen when comparing the wonderful results that the ATRs, Middle Eastern Mages, and Tibetan Sorcerers receive against the rather lack luster ones of the Western Ceremonial Magicians.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hoodoo on YouTube

My friend and colleague, Devi Spring from Queen of Pentacles Conjure has begun a series of youtube videos on the how-to of conjure and hoodoo.

Devi Spring, a fellow graduate of catherine yronwode's Hoodoo Rootwork Correspondence Course, is a talented reader and conjure woman who is both knowledgable and skilled. I am pleased to see her making these videos. In this day and age of misinformation, I am happy to see an authentic and knowledgable woman such as Devi make a series that can help illminate the path for others.

Check out her video here. You can catch her at her YouTube channel where you can follow her and watch the other videos she's put up.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Pages at AIRR!

The Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers has just put up a series of new pages including pages on the Orishas and Hindu Deities.

AIRR remains dedicated not only to providing a directory for reputable and ethical spiritual practitioners, but also to the furthering of knowledge in spiritual matters. Though it remains a site about conjure at its core, its aim is an encyclopedic-level of information on all things spiritual.

AIRR wishes to bring to the online occult community a standard of excellence as a resource for both information and as a directory of practitioners.

To learn all about the new pages of AIRR and to keep up on new updates check out the AIRR facebook page where you can follow, like, and comment as the site continues to grow.

Check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Association-of-Independent-Readers-and-Rootworkers/156082401095740.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Rite

Happy New Year everyone!

The transition from the old year to the new is always a great time for renewal, cleansing, and starting off with a clean slate. In conjure, it is common practice to clean out the old and make way for the new during this time. In light of this, I annually undertake a rite of cleansing and renewal and offer this service for free for those who wish me to add their name to my petitions.
This year, we had well over 30+ names added to the rite, not including myself and my own loved ones.
Here are the photos of the work performed right at the beginning of the new year.
I always begin with a rite of purification, cleansing away the detris of the past while giving offering to the spirits.
Utilizing the symbolism of the five-spot, the cross, and the triangle the lights open the way, protect, draw in money, love, health, success, and offer blessings.

Offerings of fire and incense were given to the my ancestors and saints to help see this work to its completion while bestowing their benediction.

The spirits were really moving that evening and you could feel the doors being opened.
The rite went smoothly and the candles burned wonderfully. Clearn burns with all the candles revealed a year of bounty!
Happy New Years to all!