I’ve lately been pondering the question of why spirits work with us, prompted in part by reading a book where the author claims that angels have no choice but to do what we ask them to do. I don’t agree with that perspective and my experiences with Angels, and for that matter other spirits, doesn’t fall in line this approach. It also seems pretty thankless for any spirit to work us because they have to. But I recognize as well that I’m making a human assumption about the motivation of beings that is likely not accurate.
I was recently asked if the Guardians of the watchtowers are the same as Archangels. The reason I was asked is because a lot of Magicians call angels to their circle or the Guardians of the watchtowers. It's a good question to ask, and since I've been doing my own work around the archangels of the quarters, I thought I would answer it.
The short answer is that the Archangels aren't the same as the Guardians of the watchtowers. They are each their own distinctive set of beings. Frater Barrabbas has an excellent book out about this very topic called Spirit Conjuring for Witches: Magical Evocation Simplified (Affiliate link), where he explores this topic in depth.
Every week I get a message on Facebook or through email where someone asks me if I'll teach them how to summon whatever Goetic demon is the flavor of the week in the occult community (though usually it's Bune).
And there's a common theme in these requests, which boils down to this:
"I want to summon the spirit and get it to solve all my problems for me and remake my life."
In other words, I want something else to do the hard work for me because I don't like my life or situation and I want to cut corners (I mean isn't that what magic's for?)
Thanks to the polytheism vs pop culture magic debate that has been going on I've been thinking a lot about my own interactions with deities, demons, spirits, etc. Galina Krassakova posts her own views about her experiences and why she doesn't need theories to define her relationships with her deities on Pagan Square and though it might surprise her and the other polythiests, I'm actually in agreement with her argument that theory ultimately distracts from doing the actual work. Theories are at best tools, but even as tools they should be used carefully lest they overshadow the actual work. My latest article on Pagansquare discusses theory and its role in magic further, but for this post I thought I'd focus on my experiences with Deity, spirits, and other assorted spiritual beings I've worked with. That phrase "work with" is likely where I and the polytheists differ and we'll get to why that is later.
My journey with the spirits has taken me on some interesting paths, and some of those paths have been theory oriented. I've explored archetypal theory for example and applied it to my practice. My book Pop Culture Magick is a prime example of the application of archetypes to magical work and to be honest I still use some of that in my practice, particularly with identity magic. And working with the concepts of archetypes has lead me to some interesting conclusions about deities, demons, etc., based less on theory and moreso on observation, practice, and experience with said beings. I don't feel that these realizations take away from the reality of the spirits, so much as provide some additional forms of engagement that ultimately can lead to a more primal experience of spirit. I liken it removing a mask and uncovering what's really underneath the mask, and realizing that the mask was used in order to provide a particular space where spirit and human could meet for the comfort of the human.
Yet the removal of the mask was also the removal of theory. Instead of focusing on the attributes and behaviors, the trappings as it were, I encountered the deeper ontological reality of the spiritual beings I was and do connect with. And instead of trying to get them to fit my agenda or needs, I allowed and do allow myself to be moved by them, to fully experience them as they are instead of through an interpretation based on theory. The irony is, that by allowing myself to be so moved, I've been moved as well by the pop culture spirits I've worked with, the ones that are supposedly not real. In my article on pop culture on pagan square I mentioned how I had a long relationship with Thiede. Thiede is a character in Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series, a fantasy series, and yet for me Thiede has been and is real. Thiede is the guardian of Space, the revealer of the ley lines between planets and stars, a dehara, and so much more to me. Reading about him in a book was only the start of my connection to him, and it was a connection, from the start, that moved me deeply.
When I say the phrase "move me" I'm not talking about being emotionally moved to tears. I'm talking about encountering a spiritual force that has deeply affected me, changed me and pointed my life and spiritual practice in a different direction than it might have gone otherwise. And that experience isn't something you can just slap a theory on. It defies theory because theory is ultimately an intellectual process used to categorize and define something into a neat little box that you can store away until you need it. I've had an encounter with something fundamentally different from me and that experience has changed who I am. It has changed my identity.
And this is not an isolated incident. Each year I work with a different elemental force and part of that process involves working with a spirit guide that provides a "face" through which I can interact with that elemental force. The elemental balancing work is an intense process of change that is brought by interacting with the element. There is no theory for it, but simply the engagement of practice and the recognition that I need to work with a given elemental force in my life. The various entities I've worked with during the balancing rituals haven't been archetypes...far from it. They are collection of beings that even today are in my life. They are not something I believe in...they are something I experience. That's an important distinction to make because in my opinion belief is just another theory, another tool. The experience of them in my life is something else. To me, the spirits I work with, traditional or pop culture, are real. There is an ontological essence of being, of identity that is objective, beyond any categorization I could give it, and it is sustained not merely by my own experience, but also by the experiences of others, independent of my own.
My work with my spirits has some form of devotion and offering attached to it. Some of the tattoos on my body, for example, are devotional offerings of my skin made to a particular element as a way of recognizing the significant role the element has played in my life. I also make offerings to particular spirits in the form of writing or through painting. But the work I do with them is nonetheless geared more toward the advancement of my work with magic than anything else. They play an important role in my life, but they are not central to it, so much as they help me focus on what is central. Thus I work with them, and this likely is different from how the polytheists approach such matters.
Just because some of my spirits aren't tied to a particular religion or culture of old doesn't invalidate their existence. And while it might be said that such spirits were created by an author or artist, I'd argue that perhaps they weren't created, so much as channeled and experienced. Whether anyone agrees with me or not on that issue isn't important. What's important in the end is that I am doing the work I am called to do. I'm getting out of my own way and letting it happen, letting myself be moved and inspired, so that I can do what I need to do. And really, isn't that the point?
I love it when people make arguments that a particular technique is the one true way that magic works. Or make the argument that the only way something works is through the intercession of spirits. Let me be clear, I do evocations, invocations, and work with spirits, but not all the magic I do involves spirits and I don't always get instructions on what to do or how to do it from spirits. I feel that evocation is much like any other technique of magic. There's a time and place for it and knowing when to use the technique is as much a part of what makes it effective as anything else.
Jason Miller shares his own perspective by arguing that we are spirits too. Much like him, I've never just practiced a Western Esoteric approach to magic. And Eastern practices emphasize the cultivation of one's own spiritual resources and power. But even without that influence, I'd argue that Western magic doesn't entirely support a spirits only approach to magic. A read through William G Gray's Magical Ritual Methods or Franz Bardon's Initiation into Hermetics shows a similar cultivation of one's own spiritual resources, both in relationship to connecting with spirits and in relationship to doing spiritual work that doesn't involve spirits.
I respect the spirits I work with and I'll acknowledge how they have impacted my life at any time. But I also have to acknowledge that I have done a lot of the work and that the work hasn't always involved the intercession of spirits. When its necessary I do work with spirits and magical entities to help me accomplish certain tasks or approach a situation from a perspective that isn't my own. But sometimes its also necessary to do magic drawing on your own experiences and resources. The wise magician recognizes that spirits, inner contacts, entities, etc, are allies who nonetheless expect you to do a lot of the work on your own. S/he also knows that its important to cultivate his/her own power and experiences and apply those to magic without always looking to allies to fix situations.
And to be honest, not all my evocations have involved spirits. Sometimes I've evoked people into my life, or evoked situations. Indeed, I think that evocation as a technique is quite useful, but much like any other technique it can be experimented with and improved upon if a person is willing to test it and see just what s/he can do with it.
There is no one true way to do magic, no one true technique that trumps everything else. And while spirits are powerful and should be respected, so are we. We are spirits manifest as flesh and we have something the spirits don't have. The ability to interact with the world in a much more direct way than the spirits can. In truth, the spirit human relationship is a symbiotic relationship, with both sides relying on each other. When we recognize this, we recognize as well as that what makes magic effective is as much the person as the spirit.
Recently I got involved in a conversation where I was asked if I'd ever encountered a spirit that hadn't been written about or encountered in mythology. It was an interesting question to ask, and I responded that I hadn't encountered such an entity and I didn't think it possible, without having some humancentric frame of reference to use in context to the entity. In the subsequent conversation I discussed the conceptualization of entities (which I'll explain in more detail below) and the person I was having the conversation with also shared a story of an entity he encountered that ended up using humancentric frames of reference to connect with the person.
When I talk about conceptualization of an entity I'm referring to the mediation of the entity into a context that is understandable by your average person. If there is no frame of reference it would be very hard to connect with a given entity. In the case of the conversation above, the person was given a name by the entity and ended up researching that name and finding it attributed to a company called Accubar. Whether the entity is the corporate presence of that company, or simply used that name to describe itself is debatable, but it could not engage the person without providing some frame of reference, some concept to help that person understand it.
A concept is a frame of reference used to define an idea, entity, etc,. so that it can be understood and related to. Without a concept you don't have connection. An entity needs to establish itself as a concept that a person can understand in order to relate to the person. The concept provides common ground for the entity and person, because the entity also uses the concept to provide itself a context by which it can interact with a given person. And that's something that should be considered carefully. The benefit of using a concept is that it provides mediation both ways. The entity is meditated into a context that helps the person understand it, but the person is also mediated by the interaction with that concept, so that the entity can also relate to him/her.
I don't think its possible to connect with an entity without some kind of context provided to mediate that connection. There needs to be a medium that enables communication and the possibility of understanding that can come with communication. Without that medium, there is no connection, no way to really verify a contact. The context frames the interaction and provides a way to meaningfully interact with a given entity. Both parties benefit from the conceptualization of an entity into a form that makes sense to the person contacting the entity.
That's my opinion, but its based on my own experiences, as well as looking at the interaction with given act of invocation and evocation. It's also based off the realities of human interaction and limitations.
In a recent blog post, Jason Miller argued that one of the things we need to the gravity of is the goetia. His point is that working with goetia has defined how people work with spirits and that it can become an obstacle to discovering your magical path. I agree with him, but in thinking about it, I realized that one of the reasons I like to work with the goetia and other established spirits sometimes is that they may not be the most powerful entities out there, but they are convenient to work with, in the sense that people do know about them and have some awareness of what expectations are involved.
But with that said, I think its important to expand your horizons. I do work with Bune, but I also work with Dragon. I have worked with Purson, but I've also worked with other time and space related entities. I've worked with the classic elemental spirits, and I've also chosen to explore the possibility of working with other elements.
There's value in going with what's tried and true, but there is something to be said for leaving the convenient behind and seeing what other spirits are out there. Thus lately I've been working with the planets, both in terms of contacting the archangels, but also working with the spirits of the planets in and of themselves. But you could just as easily work with Franz Bardon's lists of spirits, or with spirits from other grimoires.
At the same time having hopped on the Bune band wagon myself, I can say that choosing to work with him has been useful because he's getting so much notice. If everyone's working with him, there's probably a reason for that.
A little while back Mike asked a question about one of my posts, specifically whether or not I thought spirits could spawn new spirits and whether those new spirits would evolve. It was an interesting question, but I didn't really have an answer for him. It wasn't something I'd really thought of. Recently Justin emailed me about the idea of working with the spirits of the founders of a business and that prompted me to think about my other business. When I started that business in 2008, it went through several changes as I figured out what services I was offering and who my target clientele were. Eventually I settled on a business model and up until December of 2011 I stuck with that business model/entity. Then I decided to change my business once again. I changed not only the services I offered but also the logo of the business. In a sense, the old spirit of the business (in my original logo and services) birthed a new spirit (with a new logo and services) before moving on. I think of my businesses as entities in their own right. I need to feed them through my business activities and I treat them as entities in how I think of them and interact with them. So when Mike asked his question and Justin emailed me, I thought I might contact my business as an entity through the old logo and the new logo to see if there was any difference. And I found there was a difference. The old logo allowed me to access an entity that was in the process of fading away. It was no longer being fed by my activities and it knew its time was at an end, while my work with the new logo connected me to a business entity that was in the process of growing as I continued to work on it.
I didn't change the name of my business. I changed the services and the logo to reflect the direction I felt the business was moving in. It occurs to me that what I really saw was simply one version of the business being replaced by another version. It could be any of those things, but since that question was asked its something I've thought about and experimented with a bit. And it shows the value of asking a question like that...I never thought about it until it was asked and yet its leading me down some interesting paths.
I wrote a post a little while back asking if people thought spirits evolved. My own conclusion is that they do evolve and the best way I can demonstrate that is through examining several on-going relationships I have with different spirits I work with.
The first case study is Bune. Bune is a goetic demon of wealth and death. My work with him has focused on his patronage of my businesses. In working with him on my business, what I've been struck by is how much he has actually understood about business and how that understanding has manifested in my life. Even though it can be argued that he is a spirit, that identity doesn't automatically stop him from growing or evolving or being aware of the modern world. He has actually explained as well that by helping me learn about what I need to learn for my business he is also learning through me, which suggests that there is an interest on his part to continue to evolve his areas of expertise.
The second case study is Purson, another goetic demon with a focus on time. In working with him, he has shown me the connection between vibration and time (which isn't surprising since one of his tools is a musical horn), and in fact this has also pushed me into a direction of exploring some aspects of music and magic. As with Bune part of my on-going relationship with him involves a transference of information I learn in return for his insights. There is a decided interest in evolving and learning on his part, as well as on mine.
The third case study involves working with elemental spirits. As readers of this blog know I don't stick with the classic western five elements, but have branched out into working with other elements such as emptiness, love, etc. This has occurred in part because of my work with the elementals, and with their suggestion that elemental magic has evolved beyond the classical consideration of it, and that an exploration of elemental magic from a contemporary consideration of elements could be useful.
Finally there's Thiede, a pop culture entity from the Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine that I've worked with since the later 1990's. Many magicians wouldn't consider him a real spirit, but I've found that he seems to have all the characteristics of other spirits. He's shown me a lot of information on space as well as the leyline that connect planets and stars with each other. He's evolved significantly in the context of our workings together and continues to have an on-going presence that changes in part due to our interactions as well as his work with others.
I think that something which is ignored in working with spirits is the possibility that one of the benefits they get from us is an interaction that allows them to learn more of our perspective, even as they share their perspectives with us. Not all spirits are necessarily interested in our world or our perspectives, but I suspect the ones that get as much from the interaction as we do.
In reading Mike's Blog as well as R J Stewart's books, one question that has come up for me is, Can spirits evolve? Mike seems to argue that spirits don't evolve and that the ethereal software they create is based off their understanding of the world and needs to be updated by people to understand contemporary concepts. R. J. Stewart discusses them in context of what they do and the sense that I get is that they might not evolve in a way that we understand, but that doesn't mean they don't evolve. That and applying a human centric perspective to the spirits is limiting because it is human centric.
My various experiences with the Goetia, elemental spirits, and even pop culture spirits is one that leads me to think that spirits are defined by function, but that the function can evolve. To argue that a spirit doesn't really understand modern day concepts could be accurate, but it might be even better to ask if it cares or if those concepts are relevant to its function. It might also be useful to ask how relevant humans are to its function?
When I've worked with Purson or Bune the experience I've had with them is one where they seem very up to date with the times. When I've worked with elemental spirits, that hasn't been the case from a human centric perspective, but the kind of information they provide me from an elemental perspective about technology and the environment suggests they have evolved as a result of changes brought about by people.
I think spirits can evolve, but that their evolution is defined by their function, and the domain that function operates in. I say that with a caveat, because I'm applying my own human centric perspective to this question, but based on my experiences I don't think of spirits as static or out of touch with the changing times and concepts...it just might be a question of what's really relevant.