Confessions of a Clueless Animist
I’m being completely honest when I say that I was sympathetic to the so-called “spirit model” of magic long before I’d ever heard that term, and long before it became a subject of hot debate in occult circles.
I can back this up with two anecdotes.
The first involves my first day of class in Religions of India at West Virginia University in the autumn of 1979. The professor started his lecture with a brief history of religion on the subcontinent, beginning with animism. Animism, he explained, is the belief that the objects of our world are inhabited by spirits: spirits of trees, mountains, rivers, and places. “Yes! “I thought, “that’s what the world is like!” And as the good doctor moved on to the describe the development of the Vedas, I continued contemplating this world view that I believed had been unfairly relegated to “primitive” thought. I decided that I was an animist at heart.
Recognizing that I felt that way was one thing. Knowing what to do about it was quite another. On the one hand, I was getting a great deal of my training from AMORC, and on the other hand, I was devouring books from my mentor’s library by the likes of Crowley (without the Goetia), Regardie, William Grey, Paul Foster Case, and classic works of Theosophy and New Thought. All of these resources fed my needs for psychic development, exploration of my psyche and understanding altered states of consciousness. But none of these really addressed the question: If you want to talk to the spirit of the brook in a remote meadow, what do you do?
The second anecdote:
From my mid twenties to my early thirties, I was a fanatical aikidoist. That meant that, along with my training on the mats, I read all kinds of books on eastern philosophy, martial-arts philosophy, and Japanese culture. I was very pleased to know that, on the spectrum of Japanese religious philosophy — ranging from the very animistic Shintoism to the nearly atheistic Zen, the philosophy of O Sensei (aikido’s founder) was decidedly on the animistic/Shinto end of that spectrum. O Sensei spoke constantly of the kami (spirits) and how the harmony (ai) of aikido was a harmony with the spirits of the world. I recall being at a weekend aikido retreat in Eureka, California at which the teacher took us to a park on the seashore and then made each of us go find a tree to practice our staff (jo) work next to. The idea was that we were to harmonize ourselves with the spirit of the tree and to let the tree teach us.
But in general I still had no idea what to do with this feeling that I lived in a world full of spirits. It mostly remained an unscratched itch.
I can see clearly now, in retrospect, the influence of the “psychological” viewpoint in the vast majority of books available to students of the esoteric at that time (and to a great extent, even now). Esotericists of all stripes spent the twentieth century trying to make the occult more civilized by turning spirits into metaphors for powers, or externalizations of forces within the human psyche. It was as if seriously entertaining the notion that they could be independent living sentient beings would be an embarrassing admission of innocence, ignorance or lack of sophistication.
Make no mistake about it: the kinds of training and exercises to be found in Rosicrucian, Anthroposophical, Golden Dawn (and offshoots), and other esoteric teachings are tremendously important for developing the psychic faculties and honing philosophical sensibilities. The vast majority of techniques taught involve meditations, visualizations, pathworking, dreamwork, astral projection and other modes of working that can all be called “internal”. One might notice results in the objective/material world, but the goal is, more often than not, to transform oneself. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As I noted in a previous posting, the exercises in Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics are strikingly similar to the exercises taught in the degrees of AMORC (though the AMORC monographs predate Bardon’s books, making me suspect a common source). This seems to suggest that all esoteric schools, including schools of magic, followed a program of developing the student’s faculties before teaching them to engage with non-incarnate beings, if the latter was even part of their program at all.
But there are people who are just drawn to the image of the magician standing in the candle-lit sanctum — wand in hand — and communing with spirits. Rather than always going to the spirits’ world to meet them, we desire to draw the spirits toward us and into our world.
A few years ago I started getting exposed to the writings of the contemporary “back to the grimoires” movement, and I liked what I saw. The conviction grew in me, over time, that I wanted to go in this direction. About a year ago I discovered The Arbatel of Magic on The Esoteric Archives. I’m not sure exactly why, but during my first reading of that grimoire I was certain that this was the material I would use to start experimenting with spirit evocation.
One thing that made this grimoire especially appealing to me was an article I found while researching the Olympic Spirits. The article by Vincent Bridges and Teresa Burns, entitled “The Little Book of Black Venus – Part Two: Olympic Spirits, the Cult of the Dark Goddess, and the Seal of Ameth,” argues quite convincingly the theory that the sigils of the seven spirits in the Arbatel are simplified versions of glyphs carved into stones at religious sites by a late neolithic civilization in northern Italy’s Camonica valley. The name “Olympic Spirits” suggests to me that these spirits have a relationship with — if not an identity with — the deities of the classical Mediterranean world. One man’s deity is the next man’s spirit (or angel, or demon…). I began believing that these entities are native to southern Europe, and the natural choice of someone working in Hungary.
The decision to act came in the early spring of 2009. I knew my wife and I would be having a baby by December of that year, after which my ritual magic activities would be limited for a while, since my temple is in half of our oblong bedroom, divided by a bookshelf divider. The baby would be sharing that space for a while. So I had to plan out how to do seven separate invocations of spirits of different planetary natures. Each had to be done on the day and hour of it’s planetary nature, and I planned to perform rituals only during the waxing moon, and if at all possible, during a fitting moon sign. Since I’d never done anything like this before, if I wanted to do it properly, I had no time to waste if I was to get it done within nine months.
The following series of postings is the record of that experiment.