It looks like good old Jake Stratton Kent has created a bit of a stir in the ceremonial magic communities. It started with a sort of “manifesto” that he posted on the Solomonic Yahoo Group – explaining the reasons for his opposition to the secret society (or quasi-masonic lodge) model of occultism. It was quickly followed by my own defense of such occult lodges.
This has made for a fairly interesting debate, and I’ve spent the last couple of days considering whether or not I wanted to bring it over here to my blog . But since in that time the entire matter has gone viral – and even Jake has found it necessary to post an Open letter to the Golden Dawn in response – I suppose it would be helpful for me to continue the discussion here.
To bring you up to speed I’ll be posting Jake’s original manifesto here along with his Open Letter to the Golden Dawn. Then I’ll share my thoughts on the subject. But first let me give you a brief explanation of who Jake Kent is and where he is coming from.
Jake is a goetic magician, but that doesn’t mean what you probably think it does. When Jake uses the term “goetia” he’s not talking about the Renaissance grimoire of that name (which we will refer to as the Goetia of Solomon) – nor about something so simplistic as “working with demons”. Instead he is referring to one of the most primordial foundations of Western occultism: the ancient Greek Goen.
Jake explains all of this incredibly well in his seminal work Geosophia – which I highly recommend in my review which you can read here. But for our current purposes I’ll attempt to give a very short and simple explanation. “Goen” was the word for shaman in Greece before the Olympian cults existed. The Goen presided over healing, initiation, magical protection and, most famously, funerary rites. When a person died the Goen were called in as professional mourners at the funeral. (Their ritualized wailing for the dead is why the word goetia is said to translate as “howling.”) And, of course, these shamanic duties necessarily required the Goen to interact with a host of underworld and “sub-lunary” entities.
These guys were at the very heart of what eventually became the Western Mystery Tradition. Whether it is Orphism, the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Greek Kabiri, the early Christians worshipping in catacombs and tombs or the Golden Dawn’s Hall of Ma’at – you’ll find the Goen in their distant past. Plus, as the Goen we’re quite famous for working with underworld spirits, the term goetia (the craft of the Goen) became synonymous with “witchcraft” (i.e. – working with spirits) and formed the foundation of the Solomonic grimoire tradition. (Hence the Goetia of Solomon.)
Now, if you have read my books and essays on the subject of Solomonic magick, you know the shamanic roots of the grimoires have been a major focus for me. I have done much to reintroduce Western occult students to the Solomonic system as a form of “urban shamanism” or folk-magick divorced from the trappings of the later lodge-style systems of magick.
And I am proud to say that Jake, with his attempts to redefine the modern misconception of the goetic tradition, has been a co-conspirator with me in these endeavors. I dare say that each of us considers himself a modern incarnation of an obscure type of Western shaman.
Where Jake and I differ is that I am also a practitioner of Golden Dawn lodge-style magick. Jake has his own roots in Thelemic lodges. But where I find beauty and relevance in my order, Jake did not have the best of experiences in his involvement with secret societies. For him, the lodge was something that he needed to cast off in order to progress in his own quest. (I’ll save what my lodge has meant in relation to my quest for later.)
I don’t know if I have successfully gotten all of us on the same page, but at least try to keep the above in mind as you read the following manifesto recently published by Jake:
Goetia versus secrecy, Masonry & bogus history
This is close to an outline manifesto, relevant to the POV of my writings and distilled from over 4 decades of involvement in magic, public and private. I’m sure many will reject it out of hand, or mount a defence of aspects of occultism it attacks – but nothing said here is unconsidered; while the unquestioning retention of what it opposes desperately requires critique. Some of it explains why I’m a controversial figure, who many traditionalists find too radical, and ‘post moderns’ consider old fashioned. These easy dismissals are neat ways of avoiding important issues, when in fact the similarities between the extremes are more extensive than the differences, which is part of the problem, as I outline below.
*Goetia versus secrecy, Masonry and bogus history in modern occultism*
The historical links between goetia and shamanism are very strong. If you are familiar with the ‘Greek shaman’ thesis of Burkert et al, ‘goes’ was originally the Greek for shaman, especially as psychopomp. Funnily enough the same word, in its later devalued sense could also mean ‘witch’. Properly understood goetia is – essentially – the one authentic and continuous link the modern Western tradition has with the past, and that includes modern witchcraft (as I believe Hutton pointed out, and he is certainly right historically speaking).
There are various reasons I find the ‘Masonic’ model a dead loss in the many, many areas of modern magic where it applies. I see two reasons for Masonry in magic, one good enough, the other p*** poor. The good enough one was as a cover for free thinkers in an age when – for example – non-attendance at Anglican church was an imprisonable offense in England. That time is over. The other I will come to later.
The whole Secret Society model is not only unhelpful, but actively counter-productive. It is the principle reason why so much energy is expended fighting tiny little wars between factions (between witch groups, between rival Golden Dawns, between thelemic groups etc etc). Energy that could be better spent elsewhere – like incorporating the real advances in recovering our tradition made possible by *non-secretive* sources like academia. Indeed, one reason parts of the grimoire community are advancing faster than any other area nowadays is that it doesn’t automatically include this model! Which, whether in Magical Orders or Witchcraft leads to infighting, stagnation and parochialism. I also have no more time for ‘invented history’, which the entire occult world seems to rely on to an alarming extent. But lets start with secrecy.
Nothing I’ve heard from witch groups or magical orders in the last forty plus years has led me to feel they possess *any* privileged information – let alone insights – regarding goetia. Its been more of the same for decades, indeed since the C19th it has hardly moved at all – at least, not among occultists.
From my perspective, what I’ve learned about goetia in the occult world as manifest since the C19th is very unimpressive. Even if someone is jealously guarding material from deeper into the C18th/C19th it still lacks a lot of context, info and insights now available from modern scholarship, the papyri etc. Things have stood still for so long that modern research has got further along without them, and they don’t want to catch up! Where magic is going is not like where it has been since early modern times, but very few have caught on to that.
Which brings me to the Bertiaux/Grant end of the spectrum, what I call ‘dark fluff’, a major epidemic in recent modern occultism. There are so many ‘darker than thou’ types out there playing silly games with the Qliphoth, Necronomicon, Atlantean initiations and such. The grasp of the roots of magic in this ‘niche’ is even more bogus than the ‘occult establishment’ of the C19th and its offshoots. Indeed, they are much more similar to that establishment than they imagine. Spookying up the Golden Dawn, Crowley and modern witchcraft with a dash of Lovecraft and Qliphoth etc is no more informed about the real roots of Western magic in goetia. Its just more of the same in all but the most superficial details.
Which brings me to the other aspect of ‘why we used masonry’. It was as a *substitute* for elements of the magical tradition we’d either lost, or felt uncomfortable with in a more orthodox religious environment than currently exists. Virtually every western school has relied on Masonry to fill in the gaps for so long that they are no longer very interested in recovering what it was substituting for. There is so much Masonic bathwater that has to go to make room for real babies in the bath, and change frightens people. Hence bogus history and Masonry predominate, even though there is much better information and different structures available.
The *real* roots of what has been called ‘black magic’ by later philosophies and religions, is in fact an incredibly rich tradition distinct from them, *not defined by opposition to them*, or even reliant on similar terms (qabalistic or neoplatonist).
In short, through clinging to bogus history and the secret society model, we are selling ourselves very short indeed as Western magicians.
I quickly responded to this manifesto with my own defense of “secret societies” and the lodge-style systems of magick – as you can read here, and here. (Really, the entire thread is worth reading.) To summarize some of the major points I made: I do not find the magickal lodges to be outdated or irrelevant in the least. I personally see them as going though something of a Renaissance. They are sharing information with one another as well as opening themselves to what outside traditions have to teach – in effect overcoming the very shortcomings Jake describes in his manifesto. While such mistakes have certainly been made in the past, and even some groups may continue to cling to them, they are not intrinsic to the very structure of magickal lodges as Jake suggests.
Before long, this story was picked up by the enigmatic “Watcher of the Dawn” (Goetic magician slams out of date “secret masonic” magic), and even turned up on Nick Farrell’s Blog (Purging masonry from the Golden Dawn). The comments over on Nick’s blog are worth checking out – with folks like Peregrin Wildoak and even Tabatha Cicero speaking up.
If you do look into the responses made by me and other Golden Dawners like Nick and Peregrin, you might be surprised to discover most of us agree with a good bit of what Jake has to say. Secret societies that close their doors and their minds to cross-fertilization with outside sources do become stagnant and drift into irrelevancy. We (well… most of us) are fairly unimpressed with the bogus histories and lineage claims that were popular a century ago. We are equally unimpressed with what Jake is calling “dark fluff.” And, yes, those old 19th Century occultists did get a heck of a lot wrong where it came to subjects like goetia.
I think Jake may have been surprised (pleasantly so, I hope) to hear from so many Golden Dawners who did not fit his idea of stodgy close-minded tradition-hoarders. Contrary to what he thought, we are open to new ideas, new scholarship and new ways of doing things. Take for example this gem I shared with him on the Solomonic group:
For example, when we do angelic invocations in the G.D. Temple my wife and I (with our funky ATR background) bring food offerings. When we first did this, it was quite shocking to the other members of the Temple. They didn’t know what to make of it. But once they saw it in action, they got it.
One time, we drew up an astrological chart for a summoning we intended to do, and discovered that one Planet was in direct opposition to the Planet we intended to work with. No one was sure how to handle the problem – except for me and Carrie. We came to Temple that day with *two* food offerings. We opened the Hall, then went to the West, made an invocation to the opposing Planet and laid out the offering for those spirits. Then, we went to the East and did the same for the Angel we intended to invoke and made our offering there. Then we went on with the summoning without a hitch. Everyone in the Temple was floored.
And this, my friend, was happening in the *Mother Temple* of the HOGD. And that is the kind of thing I’m trying to get across to you. According to your view of my tradition, this could never have happened. Carrie and I would have been restricted from doing it, or asked to leave if we attempted it. And, yes, 30 years ago that might have been the case. But we were in fact given full lee-way to do this, and everyone there learned something from it.
It *is* happening, Jake. Things are not as stagnant in the orders as you think they are.
It was in response to this kind of thing that Jake penned his Open Letter to the Golden Dawn. For now, I’ll give you a break (and some time, if you’ve a mind to, go read the other blogs and forums I’ve linked in this post). In the next post I will share Jake’s Open Letter and my responses to it.