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.


yuzuru said...

"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"

The first example is impressive. The second is really scary.

ConjureMan Ali said...

Yes, you can imagine my shock. I was first disbeliving, but inspection showed it to be genuine.

Shadow said...

Very informative, interesting perspectives. Though, occultists have adopted the concept of demon, from it's original source, Abrahamic religion. And with a very good reason. Demon is a term used ( first time ) in Juedeo- Christian conceptualism to describe a fallen angel. So demon is different from daemon and both are very different from terms such as spirit, jinn or perhaps dybbuk etc.
Goetian spirits are ( with some exceptions ) mostly not demons, though some are and should be treated as such.
From Your article I have noticed You like Jason M. , Idries Shah and H.Gamache, nice choices, but when it comes to origins and characteristics of certain entities we must address to specific system that they are indigenous

ConjureMan Ali said...

Hello Shadow. Thank you for your point of view, but I must correct a few points.

The concept of "demon" actually springs from older sources coming to Judeo-Christian practices from Zoroastriansim which has a dualistic paradigm.

The concept of a "fallen angel" is entirely foreign to Islam and Judaism as they both view angels as having no free will and are instead extensions of God's Light.

The term demon directly comes from "daimon" as the Greek work for spirit. It isn't until Medieval Christianity that we get a strong dualistic paradigm that divides the work according to angel and demon with many of the older spirits and gods becoming demons. As Christianity ran across these spirits they became demonized. Hence Astarte becomes Astaroth.

My point indicates that such spirits are much older than the religious systems that have since categorized them. Instead they should fall into a class of spirits like djinn. In this category they are placed back into their Near Eastern origins while fully recognizing their complex natures, for they are more than simply "good" or "bad." Are there certain spirits that are "demonic?" Certainly. Just as the djinn can be shaitans. By recognizing these spirits according to their origins, their true nature is revealed and from this revelatoin magical work can be taken to a more profound level.

The ultimate point being that these spirits should be seen in the cultural context that they existed in, originally.

Shadow said...

Thank You for reading my comment and replying. Good point, about fallen angel not being an entity present in Judaism and Islam. However even in Judaism there are angels that are not merely instruments of G-d’s will as some of them are given the authority to make decisions.

We can not consider neither Zoratostrian spirits nor daemons of Greece mythology and philosophy to be demons. Demons is a category created by theology, more precise Christian theology and more precise Christian angelology, as a branch of theology. As for the demonization of certain pre-monotheistic deities, there is no scholarly ( academic ) evidence to support these claims, and any similarities between certain demons and ancient creatures could very well be accidental. It is true that Catholic priests have tried on many occasions to demonize certain pagan deities, yet such attempts were their own acting and not an official theological thought.

So here is the whole point of what I meant : The first time demon is used differently from daemon or any “malevolent”* deity, and as an NEW, Abrahamic concept was in Septuagint translation of Hebrew Bible, that is why I initially stated, how demon was ( and is ) an Abrahamic conception. So simply ( and allegorically put ) , Abrahamic religions ( mostly Christians ) hold copyrights on demon as evil entity or fallen angel, meaning they are not simply demonized deities that existed in other cultures. Koine used the same connotation in the New Testament texts.

So when we speak of Goetian or any other spirits, that are not present in Christian mythology we can use any word, but demon. It would be like I would call Mama Paduri a Loa spirit. If one reaserches this spirit, it will realize most, If not all it’s characteristics are like those of Loa, but Mama Paduri is not a member of Voodoo or Creole pantheon, nor Santeria , Palo, Obeah or any African, African-Diaspora or Haitian religion or derived magickal system.
Calling non Christian deity a demon in academio work in terms of theology, sociology and even hsitory is a good reason for failing, the author of the work.

Anyhow, I love the blog, it is indeed very informative and a very good read.
Blessings :)

ConjureMan Ali said...

Hello Shadow, you seem to completely miss the point of the blog entirely, or otherwise fail to communicate it properly.

The point is not about the term demon, but rather the context of the goetic entities. This context is supported academically. I can attest to his having my graduate work in the field of Near Eastern religions and going on for doctoral work.

The point of this blog post was to indicate that the spirits indicated in the goetia have been taken out of their Near Eastern context and have the *Medieval Christian* concept of demon applied ot them. They were not originally "demonic", nor should they be considered such.

Astarte and Baal are but two figures who have become demonized. This is not coincidence but historical fact. It is a coincidence that they have identical representations, that their characteristics, their etymology, and much more all spring from Near Eastern roots? That's a stretch in the extreme. Goetia is a collection of work with spirits of a chthonic nature as well as celestial. In this tradition the goet works with ancestors, spirits of the dead, malicious spirits, benevolent spirits, and celestial beings. Later the term "demon" was applied to a great many of these entities.

Building on the entity Baal, we have archeological evidence that he was worshipped as a Canaanite deity prior to the Iron Age and his cult was in direct conflict with the Yahwist cult. Medieval Christians slapped the term, "demon" on him and here we are. Does that make him a demon? No this categorization was done for theological and political reasons; reasons that the spiritual magician should be able to cast off in order to find a more accurate representation of the entity.

You're focused on the semantics of "demons" without understanding the very point that these entities are not demonic in any sense of the word. To apply the term demon to them not only shows a complete ignorance of Near Eastern spiritual traditions, but frankly demonstrates a lack of familiarity with the spirits themselves.

I am pleased that you try to engage on a scholarly level, but to help you better learn your religious history as well as the development of spiritual traditions please take the time to read the following books:

Spirit Posession in Judaism
The Jesus Movement
Battling Demons

and for the spiritual roots of Goetia read Geosophia
The Greek Magical Papyri

and take the time to conjure these spirits and learn their nature.

I leave you with a quote from the Grimoire Verum that speaks directly to the nature of these spirits: "They will come according to the character and temperament of the one who invokes them."

P.S. Your claims about Judaisms view of angels is extremely superficial. According to Hillel angels are considered to seem to have the ability to decide on their own, but their inner nature is completely under the control of G-d with no free will of their own.

As I said, my graduate degress are on the subject ;-)

Shadow said...

Well I obviously did not express myself clearly, which happens when I speak/write on whim and from emotion. But what You stated in Your last comment was what I tried to say in the first place.
You obviously make clear difference between Goetian spirits and demons, however You would be surprised how many published books refer to those and host of other spirits as demons. Seeing the title of Your blog I assumed You put all the spirits mentioned in same category.
I have even stated in one of my comments how Goetian spirits are not demons. And You are right I was speaking in terms of semantics, because the term demon is becoming a misnomer more and more each day. Just like New Agers of all sorts call Loa "Voodoo go*s", or Christian sects try to identify Satan ( hebrew term for "opponent" ) and Adversarry himself. After reading the whole lenghty post of Yours, I realized that You actually pointed out what I was also trying to.
As for literature, I have read Greek Magickal Papyri already and as I am Christian myself, many books on battling demons and spiritual warfare. As for spiritual Possesion in Judism I have read significant number of text, but I dont think I've read the book calling Spiritual possession in Judaism, so thank You for that one, I will most likely read it.

Isa said...

I think this is a very interesting subject, Ali. Thanks for posting this blog. I am going to have to read it over a few more times to understand it better, as there is a lot of information in it.

I have always been interested in the Jinn in an Islamic context because of their nuanced nature (i.e. they can be good, bad, or somewhere in between), and the fact that some of them are even practicing Muslims! (per the story where a group of them took Shahada at the Prophet's hand) I wonder if there are "Wahabbi" and "Sufi" Jinns having debates in their world about "true Islam" as does happen in this realm. :-)

My apologies, my intention is not to mock the Jinn. It was just an image that came to mind. This concept of the Jinn being as complicated as human beings fascinates me.

May I ask what the difference is between contacting the Jinn and Angels are? Or is there no difference at all?

mirapeix said...

thank you for this article on the djinn. do you have any more articles or books you could recommend on the subject? more specifically, on the etiquette on not offending them? i get conflicting information sometimes from family members.
peace and blessings

poetryandpotion said...

hi Raven,

I read the article and I find it very informative. I am familiar with the workings of conjuration, however I am not really confident or should I say very comfortable with the Judeo-Christian structure as written in the medieval grimoires.

I am a Pagan following a Graeco-Roman religious structure. inviting Daemons and Lares/Numen in my rites seem to fit the context of my Paradigm rather than do a full blown conjuration using the names of the Hebrew God.

I like your answer regarding the demonization of some pre-Christian Gods such as Baal and Astarte. This is evident too with the transformation of the Goddess Hekate from a Mother Goddess (Agricultural) to a lady of ghost and demons as She is identified today.

Good Points and morepower...

Please visit my blog if you can: poetryandpotion.blogspot.com

ConjureMan Ali said...

Hello Cael, thank you for taking the time to comment.

You'd be surprised about the use of Hebrew God Names in the Hellenistic world. One look in the magical practices of the Graeco-Egyptians reveals that they called upon Herma-Anubis and El Shaddai in the same breath. They recognized power regardless of form.

On a different note, while you are entirely correct about the demonization of various deities, Hecate was not one that suffered as most. She was considered a crossroads deity of ghosts and magic well before the rise of Christianity and despite this role was one of the most commonly appealed to deities.

Unknown said...

Hiya Conjureman Ali. I love your article. I am a practitioner of the Al Hikmah tradition and work with Khodam ( which is an Arabic word for assistant or guardian. Whereas Djinn can be used for negative and destructive purposes Khodam are only interested in their charges spiritual growth and development. The lower level ones can be commanded like Djinn but the highest level ones cannot. So there are many similarities between them. I work with the highest form which is a Makuto Nogososro. And down the road would like to start some alliances with Djinn as well.

ConjureMan Ali said...

I am quite aware what a Khodam is, Ron, being an actual initiate of these traditions. And they are quite capable of being as equally destructive as djinn. Please also be aware that saying that Al Hikmah is just a generic term, just like rouhinyat, referring to a variety of spiritual practices found in the Islamic world.

If you have not yet started working with djinn then your education is seriously lacking in Al Hikmah and I'd contact your teacher as something is quite off there.

Also, shoot me an email, I have something for you.