If you’ve ever seen a “slasher” film, this scenario is going to be familiar to you:
The mad, “pure evil” slasher comes after his victim with an axe. There’s a loud “thump!” and a scream. The victim looks in horror at his shoulder, now issuing copious spurts of fake red blood.
There’s no doubt. The mad monster is evil. Pure evil. There’s no way he or his actions could be described other than calling him evil.
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Let’s move to a different film, a Western. It’s been a long cattle drive. Curiously, the never-shoot-first hero’s clothes are still white while everyone else’s are dusty and dirty. One of the drovers had been scratched on his arm when he fell off his horse. Days later, he is writhing in pain, his arm infected with gangrene.
The rest of the cowboys know what to do. They get the sick man to drink a bottle of rot-gut whisky, spilling lots of it over his whiskered face. Several of the men hold him down while another heats an iron over a fire. A belt is wrapped around the man’s shoulder and tightened. The hero comes up to the stricken cowboy. “I’m going to save your life,” he says. He brings out an axe, and with a mighty blow, severs the man’s arm near the shoulder. He grabs the red-hot iron and applies it near the shoulder, searing the arteries closed.
Later, the hero tells a one-armed man, “Johnny, you’ll always have a place on my ranch.” The man, although sad to be missing his arm, thanks the hero for saving his life.
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So here we have two examples. In both cases one man uses an axe to chop off the arm of another person. In one instance it’s an act of “pure evil.” In another the same act is one of life-saving heroism.
So chopping off a person’s arm. Is it evil or heroic?
It’s simply an action.
We interpret it as good or evil based on our own personal beliefs.
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The Source of Dracula
Let’s take this discussion out of the fiction of horror or western movies and into real history. Vlad III, prince of Wallachia, lived from 1431â€“1476. His father, Vlad II, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, the source of the name “Dracula.” Bram Stoker took the name and history of his famous fictional character from Vlad III.
The purpose of the Order was to protect Christian Europe from non-Christian invaders from the Ottoman empire. As a means of terror, Vlad impaled 40,000â€“100,000 invading soldiers, as well as other enemies, on spikes. After his death he became known as “Vlad the Impaler.”
To his Romanian countrymen, he was a hero. To his enemies, he was evil, shown in images as a version of Pontius PilateÂ ordering the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, or as the Roman who oversaw the crucifixion of Saint Andrew.
So was Vlad a hero or an evil monster? The number of people he is responsible for killing in his lifetime is similar in number to the number of people killed during the “Burning Times,” the European Witchhunts that lasted four centuries. But he saved his land from invasion. Hero or evil?
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Separating People from Actions
In NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) there is a saying: “People are not their behaviors.” This is based on the concepts of psychotherapist Virginia Satir (1918â€“1988), considered to be the “Mother of Family Therapy.” In her counseling, she sometimes dealt with people who committed what I would consider horrendous acts. She felt that if she equated the person with their actions, if she labeled the person as “evil,” she would not be able to work with them. So she came to the belief, one that I personally agree with, that people are not the same as their actions.
Yes, even Hitler.
Does this justify the actions of people, actions that I would consider evil?
If Germany had won WWII, the history books (history is written by the winners of wars), it is likely that Hitler would have been seen as a hero of Germany. His horrendous actions would have been seen as “cleansing” the “Aryan race” of the “evil” of Jews, Romany, Occultists, Gays, Russians, Poles, and many others.
Does this sound unlikely? Imagine this: It’s the 18th century. You’re being paid to fight a war against people who are trying to overthrow a legal government. Both armies are very Christian. You have a large, Christmas dinner and go to sleep. A temporary truce is assumed during the Christian holiday. But the enemy sneaks across a river into your encampment and kills many of you, capturing others. On Christmas, no less! Who is the leader of this un-Christian band of terrorists?
His name was George Washington.
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze
One side would consider him an evil, un-Christian terrorist. The other side considers him the “Father of Our Country.” Evil or hero?
What’s This Got to Do With Magick?
When we label someone as good or evil, we put them into a type of box. Anything an evil person does is evil or must be interpreted that way. Anything a good person does is good and must be interpreted that way. If a person is evil, anything they do can be ignored and discarded. We don’t have to pay attention to “evil” people. By getting rid of labels for people we can listen to their individual ideas and observe their individual actions. If something is good, we can use it. If it’s not good, we can ignore it. The important thing is that by getting rid of labels we open ourselves up to discovery. This is an important aspect of being a magician.
Many people reading this will say, “Okay, but how does that help me when doing rituals?” That’s a fair question. There are a couple of answers because really, this is a couple of questions.
1) It helps you with doing rituals because it lets you discover whether the result will be positive or negative no matter the intent. For example, let’s say you do a ritual to get $1,000 to give to charity. That’s good. Your beloved uncle dies, leaving you $1,000. You’ve achieved the result of the ritual but in a way you did not want. If you assume that because the intent is good the result must be good, you can have a very unwantedâ€”an “evil”â€”result. No matter your intent, do a divination before the ritual to determine if the result is going to be good or bad and adjust your ritual as needed.
2) Don’t assume that an “evil spirit” will necessarily do something bad and a “good spirit” will do something good. There is a myth that the spirits in The Greater Key of Solmon are “good” and those of the Lesser Key of Solomonâ€”especially the part known as the Goetiaâ€”are evil. This is wrong because of one big thing: Spirits do not have free will.
Why is this important.? Imagine you are bitten by a poisonous snake. Is the snake evil? Is it’s bite evil? Is it’s action evil? I have to say “No” to all of those questions. The snake is simply doing what is in its nature. Snakes act on instinct, not free will. We may consider the snake evil and dangerous to our health, but it’s just doing what it was born to do.
Similarly, the Spirits found in various grimoires are neither good nor bad, evil nor heroic. They have no free will. They can only do what is in their nature. For example, let’s take the Goetic spirit Halphas. His purpose or “office” is to build up towers, furnish them with ammunition and weapons, and to send out soldiers. Halphas isn’t going to bring you money or wisdom or a new girlfriend. It’s not in Halphas’ nature to do those things. Halphas can only help you get weapons and support warfare.
Now, most people are against war except when you have no choice. So if you just call on the Spirit Halphas because you have nothing better to do, this Spirit is going to bring anger and strife. Does that make Halphas evil? Nope. It’s simply Halphas’ nature to do these things. This Spirit is no more evil than a bee is evil for stinging or good for making honey.
To sum up, there is nothing wrong or evil about evoking the Spirits from books such as
- The Grimoire of St. Cyprianâ€”Clavis Inferni
- The Keys to the Gateway of Magic:Â Summoning the Solomonic Archangels and Demon Princes
- Summoning Spirits or
- The Goetia of Dr. Rudd
Therefore, if you’ve decided not to even try working with spirits because they might be “evil,” I would urge you to consider that the labels are nothing more than ways to frighten children. Yes, there are actions that some people do and that I can only consider evil. But that is my interpretation of them. I will stand up against them.
However, nothing is good or bad in and of itself save that we make it so. If we begin with a personal set of ethics that we follow and stop putting labels on things around us, it opens us to a far greater world with far greater wonders.