LeGrand Cinq-Mars reviews Goetic Evocation: The Magician’s Workbook, vol. 2 [Amazon, Abebooks] by Steve Savedow, Lemegeton: The Complete Lesser Key of Solomon [See] edited with introduction by Wade Long, The Magick of Solomon: Lemegeton Secrets Revealed; How to Invoke Spirits to visible appearance in the Dark Mirror [Amazon (DVD), Amazon (Audiobook), YouTube (Trailer), Distributor (Vimeo), Distributor (Pivotshare)] written and narrated by Carroll “Poke” Runyon, and The Book of Solomon’s Magick: How to Invoke Spirits to visible appearance in the Dark Mirror [Amazon, Abebooks] by Carroll “Poke” Runyon at The Rehabilitation of the Repressed in the Caduceus archive.
When magic began to be rehabilitated, as early as the Nineteenth Century, the traditional magic of the grimoires was portrayed as a corruption, a superstitious misunderstanding, of a High Magic that provided a royal road to the life of the spirit. When grimoires were republished, it was often with apologies and emendations, and hints of a secret wisdom and intent behind the surface puerilities — or (as with Waite’s Book of Ceremonial Magic) in an attempt to show the puerilities of other claimants to esoteric wisdom.
Magic, in its rebirth, was to be divine, holy, transcendental: the highest form of the ancient theurgic art, leading to the knowledge of the Higher Self and beyond, eschewing utterly the “petty trash of small conspiracies” of those older-fashioned magicians who called upon the mighty names of God to send archangels to compel demons to give a neighbor hives, or make a woman acquiescent. Yet MacGregor Mathers is said, when pressed, to have baptized peas in the names of those who usurped his authority, and shaken them together in a sieve, that their plots might be confounded. And despite her vaunted sturdy common sense, Dion Fortune is said to have gone to some lengths to avoid accepting a book Aleister Crowley tried to present to her, lest he use it to establish a magical link by which to attack her.
Times change, however, and fashions in rehabilitation change as well. Now it is just those methods that were taken to be (at best) incomplete and misunderstood debris of an earlier high magic that are being brought back into vogue. Much the same shift has already taken place in alchemical studies. Only perhaps a century ago, alchemy began to be rescued from the dustbin of history by those who presented it as an early psycho-spiritual discipline which had been misunderstood by the literal-minded. More recently, however, alchemy had been rehabilitated from its dalliance with the psycho-spiritualists, and returned it to its dignity as an actual laboratory art.
This same turn has come, it seems, to the practice of magic. The pure, spiritualized, psychotherapeutic understanding of High Magic is now sometimes presented not as the rehabilitation of magic, but as its greatest misrepresentation — as a decline at the hands of prettifying reformers, from whom the art must be rescued, and returned to its proper methods and occupations.
Much of this shift in attitude parallels (and may well have some connection with) a similar shift in emphasis in the academic world— the shift (exemplified by Newman’s Gehennical Fire) that has led to a renewed focus on laboratory alchemy, and a turn away from symbological approaches. There may well be parallels be-tween the shifts in the magical and academic approaches, but they are widely separated, and not only by the difference between scholarly and practical enterprises. There is another set of differences much harder to characterize, yet much more piquant and interesting to observe. They might be treated as difference in style, or class (in a more or less Marxist sense), or sophistication. It is, I think, something more, or other, than any of these. But I will come back to the effort to characterize that peculiar, shared sensibility after discussing the works at hand.
The most radical, because most literal, of these revisionist productions, is Savedow’s presentation of the “Goetia” of the Lemegeton, or Lesser Key of Solomon. Despite some brief introductory material that mentions the value of spiritual (and physical) conditioning, the bulk of the book is taken up by detailed presentation of the goetic system and methods (from a decidedly literal point of view), by appendices with ancillary Solomonic material, and by records of evocations undertaken by the author.
Savedow’s approach to the Goetia hews as closely as possible to a literal reading of the text. When virgin parchment or metal is to be used, for example, when inscribing the sigils of spirits, Savedow recommends using metal disks due to the difficulties of obtaining actual virgin parchment (though many modern magicians would suppose that clean, good-quality paper would do as well). Furthermore, the results he expects (and records) are just as concrete — full, visible appearance of the spirits in manifestations that are almost physical. He sees the Goetic spirits as beings who live in an “alternate dimension,” in a kind of counter-universe to our own, living, dying, reproducing, and carrying on lives in cities and strongholds in a ceaseless struggle for survival and domination.
Despite its literalism, Savedow’s book presents not the text of the “Goetia,” but the information contained in it (and in other Solomonic texts), as they should be studied and used by a magician set on performing goetic evocation. In contrast, Wade Long has published a transcription of the entire text of the Lemegeton, based on Sloane MS 2731, with the sigils and other diagrams scanned and cleaned up in an attempt to make them as close to the manuscript sigils as possible.. Each of the five books is followed by an editorial note addressing various practical or textual points. A brief general introduction describes the process of compiling the book, and includes some remarks indicating that Long understands the spirits somewhat in terms of the formulation of Crowley’s “Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic.” In other words, he takes the spirits to be personifications of human psychic powers. All the philosophical and psychological questions raised by the phenomena of evocation, however, are passed over as distractions from the real point of the text, which is the actual practice of evocation. The book is intended to be used by practicing magicians, its large format devised to allow them to work easily with it while within a magic circle. (In contrast, the extensively annotated edition of Crowley’s Goetia published by Weiser in 1995 is intended more as a work of Crowley scholarship than as a working manual for a practitioner of evocation.)
In some contrast to these stands a much more ambitious project: a book and video on Goetic evocation as practiced in the Ordo Templi Astartes, produced by Carroll Runyon and the Church of the Hermetic Sciences.
Although one of Runyon’s major claims is that he has rediscovered the key to classical goetic evocation, the key that makes such operations reliably effective, he is far from being a textual fundamentalist. He presents his practical key (hypnotic hallucination elaborated from the reflection of the seer’s face in a dark mirror) in the context of what he, in accordance with occult tradition in such matters, calls a “rectified” system based on two books of the Lemegeton: the “Goetia,” and the “Art Almadel.” He has reconstructed the 72 spirits of the “Goetia” in terms of their zodiacal correspondences (two spirits per decan), and linked each spirit to a corre-sponding angel (as derived from the Shem ha-Mephorash, as presented by the Golden Dawn), thus systematically affirming the control of the demonic powers by the angelic. He has also reconstructed the Almadel system, based on “choirs” of spirits in each of the four quarters, to establish a connection between the archangels of the quarters and the angels of the Shem ha-Mephorash. In other words, from the seemingly arbitrary material of the Lemegeton he has produced an integrated, hierarchical model of a spiritual reality originating in a central divine unity and emanating outward (or downward) until it culminates in a multiplicity of demonic forces that are nevertheless brought under the divine rule through the agency of intermediate spirits. This integrated structure is, in turn, firmly embedded in a syncretic magico-religious matrix of the sort that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with Anglo-American occultism as it has been since the mid-nineteenth century.
The book, which seems to have been in part compiled from previously written papers and articles, is in the same perfect-bound 8.5“ by 1 I” computer typeset format used by Long’s transcription of the Lemegeton (though the typography of Runyon’s book is rather easier on the eye). It is copiously illustrated, and shows signs of careful work yet, like the other books discussed here, it does not lack the usual characteristics of self-publication, such as an uncertain adherence to the conventions of book design, an impatience, born of personal involvement, with the mechanics of copy-reading, proof-reading, and fact-checking, and a reluctance to omit, for the sake of mere elegance of presentation, any of one’s hard-won knowledge.
Despite these traits, the book is an ingenious and intelligent adaptation of the Lemegeton material to the uses of a modern magician, and well worth reading not just for those who want to perform goetic evocations, but for those who want examples of how such adaptations can be carried out, either to learn how to do them in their own ways with other material, or for the sake of literary or historical research.
The videotape is, to my inexpert eye, a more professionally managed production, yet one which does not escape the dilemmas of such a project.
Orotund, stately Poke Runyon presides over the whole, as narrator and principle presence. He introduces his method of hypnotic minor-vision, and tells the story of its discovery, in much the same terms used in his book. He also presents and narrates the procedures used in his Order’s goetic evocations, and provides some sequences (clearly announced as computer-generated, to forestall misinterpretation) that try to convey the experience of the “visible appearance” of evoked spirits in the dark mirror.
In the video, Runyon himself manifests in three forms: as a sport-jacketed narrator whose attainments include a stint as a pulp fiction writer and an MA in anthropology; as a robed celebrant of evocatory rites; and finally as a robed and throned magus, admonishing the watcher of the video from between the pillars of the temple. His manner, which verges at times on the grandiloquence of the true charlatan, has been known to prompt unseemly expressions of mirth from people watching the performance in the privacy of their own homes. Yet it is hard to say, stipulating the desirability of making such a video, how else the thing could be done. It is proverbial that a stage magician is an actor playing the part of a magician. It is perhaps inevitable, then, that magicians (whether theurgic or goetic) who appear on stage must, to make it clear what they are doing, enact the role of a magician, just as preachers on television inevitably must, despite the possible resulting air of insincerity, act their part as well.
Nonetheless, there is a difference between the performances of Jimmy Swaggart and Fulton Sheen. Having made that contrast, it is not easy to place Runyon in the notional continuum that it suggests. In terms of intelligence and critical sense, Runyon is certainly closer to the bishop than to the preacher. Yet there is something else here, something signaled in the modest but prolonged lingering of the camera on his master’s degree (from California State University at Northridge, important perhaps for trumping a certain bachelor’ s degree in magic from UC Berkeley) and bound MA thesis, or in such little but not infrequent errors as interpreting “spiritus loci” as “the place of the spirit’s manifestation”, or the inclusion in the book of a paper written for a class at Northridge as it would have been when handed in, complete with the class number and name of the teacher at the top of the first page.
There is, perhaps, something here of the desire of the autodidact, the marginal intellectual, to share in the sense of reality or legitimacy provided by the apparatus of the world of official learning. It is this quality of the striving of the outsider intellectual that, to one degree or another, pervades these publications. Magic is, as Runyon points out, a learned tradition but it is one with no surviving tradition of learning. A magician who wishes to produce an edition of a magical text must learn textual scholarship from a secular university, and then “appropriate” it to other uses — or, with whatever degree of success, reinvent it, as Wade Long and others seem to be in the process of doing. There are, in the modern west, no magical yeshivas, madrassas, or monastic schools from which a magicianly scholarship can be acquired.
There are, of course, writers like McIntosh or Goodrick-Clark, who can write of magical subjects with the lightness of hand of scholarly training and academic distance. There are also the editions of Crowley’s works being produced under the auspices of the Ordo Templi Orientis, which evidence a confident mastery of the material, a willingness to re-do it until it is done right, and a lack of anxiety over “official” recognition. There are as well magician researchers who are not widely published, but whose studies of older texts are marked by scrupulous care, acute insight, and a lack of posturing.
The increased ease which technological advances have brought to publications in every medium, and the continuing diminution of the authority of “central” academic institutions, suggests that works intended to address the concerns of scholarship as well as magic will increasingly be produced by people whose primary background is in magic rather than in scholarship. In a sense, this would be a return to the situation as it existed before this century’s proliferation of research institutions and their patronage. The rough edges of autodidacts — the ill temper of Thomas Taylor, the eccentricities of A. E. Waite, and other traits temporarily obscured by the disciplined civility of tenured academics may once again appear in works of learning as well as in works of literature.
Or it may not. One of the less-discussed aspects of scholarly studies of magic is the extent to which their readership extends beyond the world of professional scholarship. But communication between scholars is increasingly occurring in the less shielded forums of the electronic world. Certain irruptions from the nether realms were once limited to the form of admiring or carping letters from readers with no institutional affiliation who had nonetheless somehow learned of the existence of one’s papers, or some peculiar volume brandished by occasional undergraduates with more enthusiasm than prudence, or even an unannounced visit by an independent scholar clutching (like those folks known in some science departments as “citizen scientists”) several shopping bags full of proof of one thing or another. Electronic communications, with their lack of non-textual indicators (spell-ing may be haphazard, but none come written in crayon on brown paper bags), tend to have very similar levels of plausibility, differentiated largely by content alone.
It may well be that scholars of things magical will find it increasingly harder to ignore the persistent presence of magical practitioners whose activities include publishing learned if not scholarly works. This may lead to an explicit policy of refusing to pay attention to (or accept claims of publication priority for) works by people without “professional” credentials. It might lead, too, to a marked increase in the amount of energy invested in theoretical elaborations defending (by defining) the purity of the academic enterprise from the insinuations of what Lynn Thorndike called “works of perverse learning”. Or it might even lead to actual discussions between scholars interested in magic and magicians interested in scholarly study of their art.
Time, no doubt, will tell.