The occult blogs are ablaze with talk of Goetia, if you will forgive the metaphor. I finally thought it time for my 2c, seeing as I have some time to kill. It started with a response by Jason Miller to criticism for his fast and loose evocation of Bune as included in Sorcerers Secrets. Jason mentioned Rufus Opus' recent goetic house-fire incident by way of an example, and then Rufus Opus responded with an excellent post, notably remarking:
The demonization of the practice of Goetia is wrong at a philosophical and fundamental level. It's not historically accurate, either. Traditional Goety includes the conjuration of the celestial and the chthonic, gods and daimons, as well as ancestors, saints, and the shades of the dead. Santeros, Paleros, and Brujos today practice a similar magic to what was historically considered "Goetic" and they suffer the same kind of intellectual harassment Goetic magicians in the time of Iamblichus suffered. The Temple Priests didn't like that the commoners were conjuring gods and spirits to help people. They didn't like the competition. It's the same thing that the Church did to Witchcraft. The priests weren't tending the daily needs of their parishoners, so they turned to people who would. The Establishment doesn't like competition, and they created doxology to demonize the practices that focused on meeting the mundane needs of the people, food, sex, shelter, and prosperity.
Finally, Kenaz Filan responded in turn with his own perspective (because, as he points out, it was his critique that originally started this discussion). And it's a perspective I was rather surprised by considering his magical and religious background - and also considering that so many of the varied goetic grimoires in the genre have taken root in the New World traditions (such as Vodou) along with Goetic spirits, in some form or another.
The idea that all Goetic spirits are inherently corrosive and non-human seems a bit heavy handed coming from a Vodou practitioner. The same allegations have been made about the Lwa, many of whom are quite dangerous and unpredictable in their own right - and have been demonized for that very reason - either by protestant or evangelical observers citing that as evidence of their inhuman, corrosive nature. Calling them demons. Are the Lwa in fact demons, or would it be more correct to say that some people are more skilled at handling them than others?
What's more is that the spirits of the Goetia are quite frequently forms of older pagan spirits who remained useful but because they didn't fit into the oppressive theological hegemony of the time were made into demons - because presumedly all pagan spirits must necessarily be demons. Sound familiar?
The fact is that goetic spirits usually are unpredictable, feral and cunningly powerful. A characteristic shared with many of the ATR spirits. I have an ancestor spirit that is so feral and unpredictable that I have chosen not to propitiate him directly for fear of havoc - does that make my ancestor spirit corrosive and non-human? I think much of the popular discourse around goety is flavoured by superstition, irrational fear and hearsay. Had Rufus Opus had his house burned down after petitioning Legba (not an unlikely possibility considering his tricky nature) would everyone been quite so disturbed? Perhaps the discussion might have centered more around whether folks should be working unsupervised with the Lwa, rather than whether or not they are inherently inhuman or sinister.
Demonic obsession gets mentioned a lot in this discussion. Well, I know a lot of people who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit - to the extent that the other day I had to deal with a DNS poisoning issue with this blog, which kept redirecting the URL to some evangelical ministries website, assumedly devised by some righteous holy hacker. I also had to deal with a spiritual attack from the self same bunch waged most likely with imprecatory prayer. Talk about obsession. Lord only knows why my little blog would provoke such an effort - I wasn't going to give them any air time, for fear of encouraging their bigoted shenanigans but it seems appropriate to mention. I am not going to even go into the religious nut-jobs who kill, beat and maim for Jesus. Is the Holy Spirit a corrosive, inhuman demon?
I am not having a go at Kenaz (whose work I respect and admire), but obsession seems to a be a human thing, not a spirit thing, as far as I can tell. It is worth pointing out that Kenaz is right: this class of spirit certainly tends to give certain weak-minded people a lot more trouble than others. Why is it that for some conjurers they are wise teachers, herbal instructors and magical helpers and for others they become tormentors and destroyers?
I think the author of the Grimorium Verum explains this rather succinctly:
In this book are contained various dispositions of characters, by which the spirits are invoked, to make them come when you will, each according to his power and to bring you whatever is asked and that without any discomfort, providing also that they are on their part content, for this sort of creature giveth not anything for nothing!
Later adding the most direct and philosophically astute warning I have yet to read in the genre:
They will come according to the character and temperament of the one who invokes them.