The Genie Syndrome

When we approach spirit work in its varied forms we do so from the valid position of wanting practical favours and constructive influence in our lives from the spirits. Certainly when working with spirits, magically, we are coming to the work with this as our primary aim. What sometimes gets missed however is that a spirit doesn't have to give you what you want every time. As in any other relationship there are times when you can count on a person and times when you can't. Nobody will do as we please every time we ask. Sometimes they will say no. Sometimes they might misunderstand us and do something else entirely. Sometimes they don't have time or they don't agree with what we want. Perhaps they are annoyed with us regarding an infraction of some sort - or perhaps we are only nice to them when we need a favour.

In an effort to simplify things with the spirit world during practical magical work, spirit relationships are often treated like working relationships. We might ask for something but we pay the spirit in return for doing that favour. This keeps things as equitable and fair in the spiritual world as it does in the physical. Similarly, there are working relationships that are based on mutual respect and admiration, and there are working relationships in which a task is performed strictly as a duty, or for reward. Both are 'professional' relationships of a sort but the former often is more pleasant and productive and the latter more coldly economic. Naturally, we want to cultivate the former style as it will be most rewarding and sustainable.

The biggest challenge in doing so is avoiding what one might call the Genie Syndrome. When caught up in the Genie Syndrome our understanding of the spirits is as two dimensional as the chromolitho print or sigil that depicts them. They become wish granting machines that we 'use' instead of petition. If you watch the language you slip into when discussing your spirit workings you might be surprised that you yourself slip into Genie Syndrome talk. They have no personalities, or even any input to offer from the perspective of the person caught up in the Genie Syndrome - what they are to us is defined, very simply, by what they can get for us. "X spirit is great for money magic" you might say, further flattening out any subtlety or identity from these living non-corporeal beings.

Treating spirits like Genies naturally then leads to Genie-like behaviour from them. When they are robbed of voices and reduced to the role of spiritual prostitutes, they begin teaching the way the Genie teaches in the stories - by tricking the owner of the lamp, by imbedding lessons in outcomes of wishes that were never what he wanted but exactly what he asked for. They teach by trial. Eventually the owner of the lamp grows up - and either gets rid of the lamp claiming it is cursed and should be buried deep under the desert sands, in a vault, or frees the Genie making a friend that might not grant his wishes all the time but no longer intentionally torments him to teach him.

At the heart of Genie Syndrome lays the implicit suggestion that the Genie does not really exist as a separate living thing at all. 'It' is just a means to an end, a tool, a device to be used at the whim of the mighty magician. And imbedded beneath this conceit lays the inflated importance of the role it is imagined the magician has in the world of the spirits - a role which somewhat mistakenly conceives of the magician being at the top of the hierarchy blasting out commands, instead of something akin to a small squirrel running headlong into eight lanes of oncoming traffic.

Free the Genie - you need all the friends that you can get.


  1. Excellent, excellent post. I think it's good to emphasize the relationship and it's importance; there isn't enough education about that for folk.

    Jake's True Grimoire should be required reading for folks doing spirit work in the West as he covers the worker-spirit relationship very well.

  2. "- a role which somewhat mistakenly conceives of the magician being at the top of the hierarchy blasting out commands"

    ...so where is the magus in terms of this hierarchy, anyway? God at the top, spirits above and embodied humans at the bottom? spirits and humans at the same level? is there a hierarchy at all? are these cosmological maps absolute?

  3. St. B, this has to be one of the best posts I've read on any blog in a long time. I actually think this should be required reading for anyone going into spirit-based magick.

    I think sometimes on forums and in discussions we get so caught up in the technique and technology of it all the we forget the internal mind-set which is equally important. Yes having the right incense is important, but so is adding the most powerful magical word of all: please.

    A symbiotic relationship based on admiration between spirit and magi can lead to not only some amazing results, but a fulfilling partnership and alliance. Great work, I fully agree with you!

  4. I wonder whether the genie syndrome is connected to the psychobabble syndrome?

    "After all all the little demons and spirits are in your head and every skizofrenic should do some goetia work..."

    or not.

    I'm not sure if I follow you on the hierarchy bit, so I'll write down my opinion and you can tell me if you agree or disagree, instead of me digging into something I might just have missunderstood.

    My scholarly and experimental opinion is that Man should supplicant the higher, untill apotheosis occurs at which stage the individual man IS at the top of the hierarchy. Untill apoteosis occurs, however we are, as you say squirrels, with the added benefit that when we call any power/force they actually listen.

    even after apotheosis does occur, the King/queen should treat their subjects as a benevolent theocratic dictator and rule the land well, not playing GW Bush with the spirits who after all, need to be treated fairly as well.

  5. @ Argent: I certainly think the spirits-as-figments-of-psychology view contributes to the genie syndrome. It's a view I find so inimical to the practice of magic that I wonder how magicians got talked into it sometimes.

    My view of spirit relationships is very much based on the outlook of african and new world spiritist traditions, and when it comes to grimoire based spirits my view is based specifically on those living spiritist traditions that incorporate grimoire spirits into their systems.

    The fact is all contemporary grimoire-based magic is reconstructed - so much of the technology, tradition and skills are missing from these modern reconstructions. The living traditions however have an unbroken line of transmission, so those skills have remained intact. They know how to work with spirits productively and sanely. From that perspective humans are pretty much on an equal footing to the spirits - this varies based on the human in question and their level of skill and status. The spirits have more power, however. When it comes to your average western practitioner I do believe it is a squirrel-in-eight-lanes-of-traffic situation nonetheless.

    I cant speak to the effect of apotheosis as that doesn't figure in to my world view. As a metaphysical concept it seems like very recent innovation in occult thinking and I have yet to see any western magicians reach god-hood anywhere other than chat-rooms.

  6. Not recent at all. The Corpus Hermeticum has apotheosis as its central message. I don't remember the exact passages right off the bat though.

    A similar (if identical, I'm not sure) concept was Henosis (Union in greek) which was a prominent idea in Neoplatonism and Hermeticism and was about union with ultimate reality (or Monad). This, according to Iamblichus was to be achieved through acts of Theurgy (divine working) and not just Theology (god-thinking) as Plotinus was supporting.

    Although much is lost and what we have are mere fragments, what is reconstructed *seems* to be working towards that goal.

    Plus, you can't get to a road that doesn't exist in your map, can you ?

  7. Divine union seems to me to be a distinct concept to god-becoming. The latter dealing with complete individuation of the self until the magician attains the status and power of a god, the former is a *dissolution* of the self leading merging with God. Naturally, divine union is treated in very many texts - I don't think the two things can or should be conflated.

    I didn't say you can't get a road that doesn't figure in my map, just that I can't speak to the effect of it.

  8. I believe that those two are the sides of the same coin.
    I can explain myself more but inevitably this would probably be viewed as empty theoretical posturing. It is very easy to parrot texts with no understanding. I am not nearly close to Apotheosis by any chance, but what I've experienced so far, does seem to lead into a very distinct kind of liberation.

    I also strongly believe that everyone is exactly where he/she is supposed to be. Having this in mind, all the silly talk about paths and maps and journeys is rendered moot.

    As long as you do and practice what you feel very strongly as "Home" and you're honest, you're doing the right thing in my book. At some point magic will also start working you, and even if it takes you 1 year or a whole lifetime, eventually you will track-change to where "Home" is.

  9. My guess is that magicians got talked into the psychological model of spirits during the LSD-era and when laziness became the watchword of the day. Whether true or not, its a very silly stance to have when working with entities. :)

    Not all grimoire based traditions are based on reconstruction at all, but most highly visible exponents and exposures of the tradition are.
    Of course you are right, a living tradition that actively works with entities such as taoism, state shinto, african and african-diaspora religions etc. really have much to teach the average westerner, especially the crowd lost in the "angloccultism" so prevalent among westerners on the iceberg tip of the scene, as most chatrooms, blogs, and general "all you can find exist in books and internet" crowds. However, why a santero's reverence of their head owner transcends, for some obscure reason, the reverence that a baptised greek orthodox shows to the saint whose name they inherit and thus are under the protection of is beyond me. I guess its the westerners looking at foreign tech instead of ackowledging their own rich heritage that is rearing its uggly head. we have as much to learn from Orthodox saint veneration as we do from candomble.

    Apotheosis and henosis are so similar that without going into a scholarly or metaphysical debate we might as well skip the how and why and conclude that if a reality, then the effect is the same with regards to the place of the individual who has achieved either is then in the scheme of the cosmos, as far as it relates to the dualistic notion of working with other entities. But here is one of the dividing lines between religion, magician, vertical or a horizontal path.
    This is natural, and unless the practitioner has a genuinely mystical aim, then no henosis OR apotheosis can or will occur, and some of the esoteric traditions have no need for a mystical approach, and without that, I pity the fool (quote Mr. T.) who believes they are anything more than "a squirrel-in-eight-lanes-of-traffic" as you so eloquently pointed out.