The term “Grand Poobah” is derived from the brilliant comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado. In it, there’s a character named “Poo-Bah.” Poo-Bah has a long series of titles after his name, such as Commander-in-Chief, Lord Chief Justice, and Lord High Everything Else. According to Wikipedia, the term Grand Poobah isÂ used today “as a mocking title for someone self-important or high-ranking and who either exhibits an inflated self-regard or who has limited authority while taking impressive titles.”
You may have met or heard of people who have given themselves several archaic and grandiose titles, thinking that a list of exalted honorifics gives them the importance and respect their ego thinks they deserve within their usually incredibly tiny group, a group that often consists of little more than a handful of peopleâ€”if that. Today, with the internet and a few dollars, people can establish an elaborate presence, making their group appear to have numbers far beyond the actuality. They’ll talk about how the vast majority of their membership believes something when really it is just the personalÂ opinion of one person, the Grand Poobah.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Moynihan was a U.S. Senator, an Ambassador to the United Nations and to India, and held many other governmental positions. He also was a sociologist, working at Harvard, M.I.T., and Wesleyan University. One of my favorite quotes from him is this:
You are entitled to your own opinion,
but you are not entitled to your own facts.
The problem with Grand Poobahs is that they become so involved with their belief in their own self-importance, that they cease to understand the difference between opinion and fact. To them, their opinions are facts.
This was drawn to my attention by a recent question I received from a person who found an odd blog on the internet. It is so minor that although the Grand Poobah writing it has been making posts for three years, claiming to be part of a large Order with a silly abbreviation for a name, his posts have yet to receive even one comment. I’m inclined to think it is just one guy trying to prove how important he is, but that’s just a guess.
This blog made the claim that the versions of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram that had been published were all withholding the “true keys” to the ritual. Why? well, according to him it was for “monetary/financial” and “power/control” reasons. How people are going to get vast amounts of money and power from a well-known and widely published ritual is beyond me, but accusing others of imaginary crimes and offenses is a typical sign (symptom?) of Grand Poobahs.
Naturally, his exalted Poobahness is willing to reveal those true keys not realizing that this implies he is trying to get the money and power he accuses others of wanting. After all, if he’s revealing it you should join his group and give him your obedience (power) and probably money, too.
The All-New LBRP!
So what are these true keys? Well, he throws in some astrological symbolism and different terms and ritual actions. In actuality, there’s nothing new with doing this. In Modern Magick I share several different modifications to the LBRP. Those were only a few of the variations I’ve seen. I’ve also seen versions in Greek and in Latin, I’ve seen modifications for Thelemites and Chaos Magicians. I’ve seen feminist versions and “gender neutral” versions. There are lots of variations. Really!
Often, the people who make variations will claim they are “correcting” the ritual (or other rituals). Sometimes those corrections add value and impact. Sometimes, well, they are of far less value than the person doing the correcting thinks. Just because something seems philosophically valid doesn’t mean it’s going to make a good ritual.
The problem with the Grand Poobahs, as pointed out by Moynihan, is that they become so lost in their egocentricism they can’t differentiate between their personal opinions and the facts of objective reality. They present their opinions as undeniable facts. They also tend to use their titles as a shield against their own feelings of insecurity and inferiority. They’re incapable of being able to say, “Look at my new interpretations of the LBRP! They add some new insights and approaches. Let’s try it!” Why? Because someone might challenge them and say that their opinion is wrong. So instead they say the other guys are all wrong, they missed everything, and our Order (i.e., me) has the real secrets and the real facts.
Everyone else is bad and wrong!
Everyone else is attacking us!
We’re the only good ones out there!
Only we have the truth!
It’s Us against Them!
Sorry, all you Grand Exalted Poobahs! Yes, of course you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. When it comes to the LBRP, for example, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people or more use it successfully every day. You’re alterations don’t make it better. They don’t correct any supposed errors. What you have is simply different.
Is That Bad?
Most people who begin working rituals do so by slavishly following what they’re taught. Often, feeling insecure, they ask for advice on the smallest details. They want to get it right. Some, without in-depth understandings will change rituals at this point without understanding them. This often leads to failure and the practitioner eventually leaves the magickal path.
Others practice until they learn the ritual and the concepts behind it. Then, they ask a vital question:
What if they change a word or action? Sometimes they’ll ask for advice from others on this. Eventually, however, they’ll experiment with it and find that the change works or doesn’t work. If it works, they may continue using it and even share it with others. The wisest ones realize that this is a variation and will be useful for some people while not useful by others. It is a personal change, not a universal one. Instead of just following what everyone else is doing they make the magick their own. This is a way in which magick evolves and improves.
The Grand Poobahs, however, don’t recognize the difference between opinion and fact, between personal and universal. They want everyone to use their all new! all original! we have the real keys! everyone else is out for money and/or power! variation. And if you don’t follow the Grand Poobahs, they will denounce you. So I would urge readers to beware of Grand Poobahs with long titles who try to encourage an us-versus-them mentality. That’s what forms cults, not magick.
But although their variations may not have the supposed true keys that others hide, is their variation any good? Well, there’s only one way to find out: try it. Give it a good shot. Forget the egocentrism of the source and just look at what was produced. It may be that the variation works very well for you. If that is the case, use it. If it doesn’t work, return to the version you were using that does work.
Merely because Grand Poobahs are Grand Poobahs doesn’t mean what they produce is necessarily wrong or bad (although, unfortunately, it quite often is). It just means that it’s more important to focus on results rather than the Poobah who invented it.