The Ancestors, HGA and Goety in the New World

In the modern Solomonic tradition there is some emphasis that when approaching goetia that it will be done as  a practice adjunct to, or preferably following work with theurgia. Which is to say the conjuration and initiation into planetary and angelic forces. Understandably, the two are seen as being cognate and that in order to access and control the goetic forces safely one would have to have the experience and support of the angelic, or otherwise celestial forces. Its unclear how much if this is just pure rhetorical construction and valid historical truth. But I am willing to guess that there were quite a few magicians, traditional witches and such folk who conjured infernal forces without getting their angelic 'wings' first, as it were. Be it the attainment of the Holy Guardian Angel, initiations into planetary spheres or otherwise. Now setting aside the distinct philosophical dualism or binary that this proposition sets up and the problems inherent therein - I would like to chat a bit about how the traditions in the New World handle the infusion of grimoiric and especially goetic magic into their magic and spirituality. Specifically we find Haitian vodou, Brazilian Quimbanda and possibly the Obeah of Jamaica as well as some elements in Southern Conjure that are distinctly informed by the solomonic tradition of the grimoire.

Yet rarely, if ever, do we find theurgia incorporated into New World magics when the grimoires have been a  marked influence in other ways. In Haiti the Grande Grimoire and the Verum have seen much prestige and use - fluidly incorporated into the ritual systems in that environment to hair raising effect. Same with Brazilian Quimbanda. Deamons become readily syncretized with Lwa or Exu's just as saints have been, but very rarely do we see celestial beings syncretized and only when the angels in question have the unique double duty as Saints - such as St. Michael, or St. Gabriel. This omission surely isn't due to reticence about Christian concepts about angels - because these cultures quite ingeniously managed to include and accept Christianity otherwise. Nor can we say they have not had access to the Grimoires - because the staple texts have been a fairly long standing influence in New World traditions. In fact we find a very selective use of even Goetic material from the grimoires - and often leaning to the blacker, more diabolical texts and forgoing the, ehem, 'whiter' goetic works such lemegeton; or if these are used it is only as a source for spirits rather that procedures. Thats a whole other post worth of discussion right there! No, theurgia is not incorporated into New World magics because its not chthonic.

New World magical traditions are distinctly results driven but more than that there is the particularly african preoccupation with the Dead. Reverence, worship and propitiation of the dead can be understood to be one of most central features of all African, and African descended spirituality. It is the central core in an otherwise varied theology. In fact the celestial forces are often seen as being too distant and possibly preoccupied with greater functioning of universe to care whether uncle Dlamini in the bordering settlement will stop beating his wife. No, for that you need spirits that are closer - spirits who have their hands in, and an interest in the affairs of day to day life. As the such what western magicians might describe as chthonic spirits, are most suited to their needs. The immediate family's dead ancestors, local spirits of places and then greater ancestral spirits who are so old and great that they have entered myth as the Lwa, Orisha, Nkisi etc. Its understandable that saints were so readily accepted by New World traditions and retained long after the hold of slave culture had receded. The saints are simply mighty dead. Mighty dead with cool chromolitho prints and halos to boot.

In any event my point is this - that in these traditions where we find the incorporation of grimoiric spirits of the goetic variety - we do not find theurgic work used to 'balance' it. No Holy Guardian Angel in the Abremalin sense, or otherwise; no planetary angels and no 'high' 'white' magic as such. Why is that, when other grimoire spirits have been included? Well, my guess would be - is it was not needed or useful to them.

This is not to say that modern traditional mages concerns are not valid and that some kind of spiritual support system and backup is not required when dealing with the wilder more feral variety of spirit we encounter in the Goetia - its just that that support doesn't not necessarily have to be of the winged, celestial variety. As such, the New World traditions usually turn toward their own spiritual and genetic roots for such support when working with any dangerous or wild spirit. The Ancestors. And not just just little old grandma Anne, but the entire of aggregate of spiritual beings who stretch back towards the beginning of your biological line. They have your back as only family can have - when you honour and remember them and they are very much of the chthonic variety themselves. Similarly we find the saints propitiated when dealing with more feral powers - so that they may act as intermediary between the petitioner and the hotter spirit.

In Mexico for instance we find the great fame and frequent propitiation of the unpredictable, sometimes dangerous Santa Muerte spirit - and often this spirit is handled more successfully by the intercession of St. Cyprian of Antioch - that famed black magician turned saint. Similarly, in quimbanda in which we find an almost one for one syncretism between the deamons of Grimoirium Verum and Legion of Exus - we also find quimbandistas sometimes resorting to petitioning saints (such as St. Cyprian) as intermediaries to the more violent or dangerous Exu's as method of trafficking with them more safely. With the important influence of Kardecian spiritualism in Quimbanda we of course see the Ancestors playing and important role in helping to balance and harmonise the more violent and unpredictable forces of the Exu's. This principle hold true with Haitian religion too - the ancestors are turned to when a Lwa becomes vengeful or dangerous, as these are your spiritual roots and your first line of defence when working with and unpredictable, yet powerful and necessary spirit.

I hope this rather long post has given some indication where I am going with this in regards to Goetic practice. The New World traditions offer us some clues how we can work with chthonic forces safely without necessarily getting into dualist thinking of angels vs demons along with all the religious baggage that this potentially churns up. Not everyone looks at it that way though; and in that light I would like to add that my position in this is coming from a distinctly folk-magical and ATR influenced perspective - and it does not mean I feel that working to attain conversation and knowledge of HGA or other theurgic approaches are not  valid! I believe they are in the grimoire tradition for a reason, and its a good one. Yet, I feel the New World traditions offer us a new living synthesis to look at and consider - especially if our magical inclinations lean in that direction.


1 comment:

  1. This seems like a fair and insightful assessment, and for the most part, I very much agree. However, there are a few grimoire-using, New World, folk-magic paths that DO rely on angelic/divine petitions; namely, the Pennsylvania Dutch system of Pow-wow, a.k.a. braucherei, and to a lesser extent, Trolldom (Scandinavian folk magic), as practiced in the Upper Midwest. The Pennsylvania Dutch hexenmeisters usually relied on grimoires such as Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, Albertus Magnus’ Egyptian Secrets, Secrets of Sympathy by William Beissel, and the Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses. Long Lost Friend (by far the most popular grimoire among Braucherei) is more or less exclusively a “white magic” charm book full of petitions and prayers, far from diabolical.
    What’s interesting about these is they both come from Protestant backgrounds, whereas many of the Southern/Afro-Caribbean/S. American traditions come from a Catholic background. Granted, various svarteboka, or “black books” were used by Scandinavian immigrant practitioners in the latter half of the 1800s, but one has to realize that anything short of the bible was viewed with suspicion and could have been dubbed a “black book”.