Greetings fellow conjurors and spirit-workers!
You might have noticed a new blog, recently posted by Frater Barrabbas, entitled My Problem with Grimoire Purists and Strict Traditionalists. Even if you haven’t read it, you might recognize it from Facebook thanks to the prominent image of a braying jackass right under the title of the post.
SIGH – here we go again…
To put it all as briefly as possible, it seems our Frater has had it with the “never ending argument between those who espouse the literal adaptation of Grimoires as they currently exist and those who follow a path of eclecticism.” And he’s here to champion the eclectic path, dammit.
As one who does not practice the grimoire tradition, he sure seems to have a lot of opinions about it. He’s even written several articles on what he perceives to be “problems” with the grimoires. And that boggles my mind – because I doubt he would be so forgiving if I were to point out my “problems” with his chosen path. (Not to say I have any – I am willing to admit I know very little about it – but I am led to wonder how the shoe might fit on the other foot…)
Now, I have no beef with Frater B himself. And, to be fair, he has posted on Facebook that the inspiration for his recent post was an encounter with a particularly arrogant jackass who felt his way (or their way – I’m not sure if it was one person or a group, though I’m betting in either case it was rabid Lisewski fanboys…) was the only way to accomplish magick. And, I’ll side with Frater Barrabbas in saying those types are insufferable – I’ve kicked a number of them out of my own Solomonic group(s).
So what is it that makes me heave a sigh over his post? While he states at the beginning that he is only fed-up with that certain type of occultist – the rest of the blog is a diatribe against the grimoires themselves, not just a few practitioners who make jerks of themselves.
My initial thought upon reading the very first line of the article was “Exactly where is this never-ending battle taking place?” I certainly hear about it a lot – but where is it happening? I like to think I have some involvement in the global community of grimoire enthusiasts, and I haven’t seen groups of us sitting around talking about how stupid we think all other flavors of occultism are. (And Jake Kent slagging off magickal orders doesn’t count.) I’ve never once seen any of us compare wand sizes – at least not in a negative way. Are there arrogant jerks to be found out there? – yep! Same as with any group. And, just like those other groups, they don’t make up the majority and they aren’t tolerated in polite company.
He goes on (still in the first sentence) to make a distinction between those who “…espouse the literal adaptation of Grimoires as they currently exist and those who follow a path of eclecticism, experimentation and creative adaptation.” As if these two things are mutually exclusive. As if the grimoires are not themselves eclectic or do not demand experimentation and creative adaptation on the part of their practitioners. What grimoires has he been reading??
So, from the very outset, Frater B is setting up a straw man. He casts grimoire purists in a light of close-mindedness and blind adherence to rules and traditions. He makes a very minimal effort to suggest we aren’t all that way, but he then goes on to explain how my system fails in every conceivable way…??? Did I miss something?
Yes I know how it is with blog posts – you have a thought to share or a rant to make, then everyone with any connection to that subject matter whatsoever is going to take everything the wrong way and jump down your throat. And it is not my intention to act in such a manner at all. I know he had a bad experience with a jackass and wanted to post about it. What I find unfortunate, however, is that the bulk of his post seeks to tear down my tradition in and of itself, showing how his own ecclectic path is “better”, more “in touch” with modern humanity, and the grimoires are dusty old relics with which we are largely wasting our time. (As I said, he’s posted anti-grimoire material before.) So… SIGH.
It is entirely possible he didn’t mean it that way – but, brother, that is how it came across. He has even recently mentioned the stir his post has created; though I’m not entirely sure he gets why. So, let me take things point by point:
– Almost right away, he discusses how the results of one’s magick are more important than whether one’s “magical tools are perfectly fashioned according to the dictates of the tradition or that the rites and liturgy employed are accurate and valid.” And, here he shows just how much he doesn’t get my tradition.
My tradition also puts supreme importance on getting results from our magick. (Surprise!) However, what Frater Barrabbas is casting in the light of slavish following of pointless details, we happen to call “the protocols our spirits demand in order to work with them.” If my spirits tell me to set up my altar a certain way, or to perform a certain ritual, or to use some specific tool made in a specific manner in order to get a certain result, then you can bet I’m going to follow their instructions – I don’t care how loudly Frater B and his eclectic buddies stand on the sidelines and shout “But you don’t have to!” For some reason, he thinks our dedication and willingness to put every effort into our work with our spirits is a bad thing, a sign that we just follow rules without understanding, that we essentially don’t understand magick at all. When an archangel tells one of us how to prepare a proper offering in the proper way, we should apparently tell the archangel to shut up and accept some McDonald’s take out because that’s what we have on hand. Strictly adhering to the details of the archangel’s instructions is, apparently, stupid.
Even more than this, he outright states that the material used to fashion tools and the methods of fashioning them are purely esthetic and have absolutely no bearing on the efficacy of the magick: “Whether the wand was made out of alchemical gold engraved with rare arcane symbols and glyphs or it was just an unusual stick found in the woods, the magic generated doesn’t seem to vary much.” This is one of the places where he illustrates how little he understands my path. He thinks we believe it matters if the wand is prettier or more expensive. He doesn’t even consider that Spirit A may *require* us to use a golden engraved wand, while Spirit B might *require* us to use a stick we found in the woods. And it is what the spirits want that is important here.
– Next, Frater Barrabbas slips right back into straw-man territory, by attempting to knock down yet another “popular” argument that “…the magicians of the previous age knew what they were doing and the grimoires that they wrote represent a true tradition of magic, and that now, after centuries of neglect and omission, we should pick up what they unwittingly passed down to us and use that above all other methodologies or techniques to work magic. In fact, it has been implied that we would be better served if we tossed out all of the current magical lore collected over the last hundred years or so and started fresh with one of the more older grimoires.”
I’ve never heard any such argument. Yet again, this arises from the fact that Frater B doesn’t practice this tradition. His arguments are close, but they miss the point in the end. We don’t think magicians of previous ages were some kind of super-beings who knew everything. We do, however, know that magicians of previous ages inherited their knowledge from ages before them, who got it from ages before them – all the way back to the most primitive tribal shamans. It was an unbroken line of human experience that developed naturally over thousands of years. Then (in the West), along came the medieval Church and outlawed it all, followed by the Age of Enlightenment that declared it was all superstitious nonsense. Then came the psychological model of magick to replace it.
A few of us have found that psychological model lacking, and are looking back to before that massive break in human tradition and asking, what were they doing? And, somehow, that means we are worshiping those people and declaring them infallible?? We are, in fact, wrong for having issues with any form of occultism that developed after the Golden Dawn? We should all be Thelemites or Wiccans, and that’s it, Jack!?
– The next paragraph contains more of the same, though it stands out for including a line toward its end declaring the grimoires do not produce the impressive results their practitioners claim. As he does not practice or even understand the fundamentals of my tradition, how could he know this? Did he just pick up a grimoire once and “try it out” and got nothing for his efforts? He believes making the tools properly is just esthetic nonsense, and doesn’t grasp the concept of following spiritual protocols. Thus he was hardly experiencing my tradition – yet his limited grimoire experience (or lack thereof) was a good enough reason to declare an entire tradition a load of bunk?
– Next, he enters into one of the most overused and tired arguments out there: the grimoires were written in the medieval and renaissance periods, and thus do not represent our modern culture. Because, certainly the magick and methods presented in those books only apply to that time and place. Only in medieval Europe did people need protection, healing, prosperity, love, and all sorts of outdated nonsense like that. Only in the Renaissance did anyone need to seek out and connect with the spirits of nature, and learn the secrets of magick from them. You can only summon the Archangel Michael, or the demon Bael, if you are a serf living on a farm or a nobleman living in a castle keep. Does this sound as silly to you as it does me?
Without a doubt, I’m the first one to insist you need to understand something about the time and place a text was written, if you want to understand what is written. (I dedicated the first half of my Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires to that alone!) But it’s a pretty far leap to say that no text can have meaning or application outside of the time and place it was written. Some things are timeless – and magick just so happens to be one of those things.
– From there, he goes into an explanation of how the grimoires are actually eclectic themselves, and how even a single grimoire (say, the Key of Solomon for example) will usually exist in several conflicting manuscripts. In other words – the grimoire tradition is not, nor has it ever been, about the blind following of pointless rules. It’s always been about experimentation and finding what works best. And that entirely contradicts the point he is trying to make. Does he really think we grimoire mages hold up a manuscript that exists in dozens of different forms and declare it “infallible”?? Has he overlooked the massive efforts some of us have put into restoring old texts, correcting talismans and sigils, completing unfinished word squares, hunting down lost or corrupted rituals? Yes. Yes I think he has.
In this same section, he puts quite a bit of effort into illustrating how we only possess a fraction of the grimoires that actually existed, and therefore can’t really know anything about the tradition anyway. I’m sure this information will come as quite a shock to Claire Fanger, Richard Kiekhefer, Elizabeth Butler, Stephen Skinner, David Rankine, Jake Kent, Owen Davies and others (including yours truly) who now must recall all of their books and essays and theses because, suddenly, they don’t really know anything about the medieval grimoire tradition. Again, it sounds silly because it is.
After that section, Frater Barrabbas comes back into sensible territory again – making perfectly agreeable statements about magick, his thoughts on Satan and demons, etc. I don’t have any problem with him there – though I think he also doesn’t really “get” the role of demons in the grimoires (it’s something I’m teaching and lecturing on currently). But I don’t take personal issue with anything in these final sections of his blog.
Again, I’m sure most of his post was motivated by running into a real dumbass who claimed to be the Grand Solomonic Master before whom we should all bow. But, a large bulk of what he had to say was against the grimoire tradition itself, painting both it and its practitioners with a very inaccurate brush. I don’t blame him for not understanding some of the nuances of how my kind of magick works – but my feathers ruffle over his attempt to present himself as an expert on a subject matter with which he does not have experience, and clearly has very little understanding.
In the end, I would say this:
Hey, Frater B! Let’s make a deal – I won’t try to explain your tradition to others, and you don’t try to explain mine. Sound good? 😉