Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and Essential Enochian Grimoire.
Those who take an interest in Solomonic and grimoire occultism face a rather unique dilemma. Anyone who undertakes a specific path/tradition—such as the Golden Dawn, Thelema, and even Wicca—generally has their work cut out for them. Literally. Someone before them has taken the time to design an entire course of work and study for the new student to follow. You will read this text and that one, you will perform these rituals and meditations, and you will pass this test before moving on to the next stage—there really isn’t any room for confusion on that point.
This, however, is not the case for the student hoping to learn the ways of Solomon or Enoch. You, courageous seeker (if this applies to you), are merely pointed toward an entire genre of (extremely obscure) occult literature and told, “There lie the true secrets of magick. Good luck.” So, realizing you’re pretty much on your own, you take the most logical first step: look for a copy of the Key of Solomon in order to get an idea of what the system looks like and requires. But wait! Do you mean the “greater” or “lesser” Key of Solomon? Or did you mean the Hygromanteia (aka the Magical Treatise of Solomon)? Maybe you’d like the Key of Solomon the King published by Mathers, or do you prefer the Veritable Key of Solomon published by Skinner and Rankine? I could go on, but you can see for yourself right here. And, mind you(!), these are only a few of the manuscripts attributed specifically to Solomon—so this doesn’t include the host of grimoires attributed to other authors. All of them purport to teach you how to summon the spirits and work the spells, and they are all certainly similar to one another, yet they are also very different.
But we’re not done confusing you yet! You see, we old-timers are going to give you a solid gem of advice before you even get started: Follow the damned instructions! Don’t skimp or take shortcuts, don’t alter things to the way you think they should be; trust that the author of the grimoire knew what he (or she) was doing and follow the instructions as given. Then, you’ll delve into your chosen grimoire(s) and discover the punchline: the instructions aren’t complete! At least, they aren’t in the greatest number of occult texts. Most of them were written as working notes for practicing magicians, and it was assumed a lot was already understood by the student before even picking up the book.
There are relatively few grimoires that contain such utterly complete systems you would never have to reference or draw something from another grimoire to fill in procedural gaps. A great example is found in the Goetia, one of the more popular texts from the “Lesser” Key of Solomon. There, we are told we need a number of tools and talismans for the magick; we are shown what the talismans should look like, and given some basic magickal timing for when to make them, and that’s it. No consecration procedures are suggested, though we can be certain they were intended—not only for the tools and talismans, but for the magician himself. The author simply assumed we would already know this information, and therefore did not waste ink writing it out. The modern student quickly notices that the “Greater” Key of Solomon contains lengthy chapters on ritual preparation of the self and the tools, and assumes this information can be used to flesh out the Goetia’s instructions.
Now, here is where the student will encounter some real controversy. There are a few Solomonic practitioners out there who will insist “grimoire hopping”—that is, either switching between grimoires, or drawing material from one text to “fill out” another—is a bad idea. Instead, one should pick a text and dedicate to it. They will say there are differences between the instructions in different grimoires, and therefore we shouldn’t assume their procedures can be easily shared between them. Not to mention a great number of grimoires, themselves, claim to contain the real secrets of magick while other grimoires are vain foolish attempts at the same—so apparently even they didn’t want you to mix their systems together.
Except, they totally mixed the systems together themselves—a lot. They regularly borrowed conjurations, prayers, talismans, words of power, ritual tools, magick circles, and more from one another. In fact, they did so much appropriating it is often difficult to determine which book copied from another, or when they might both have been drawing from some as-yet-unknown older source. And they didn’t keep the things they borrowed pristine, either. They made aggressive changes—lengthening or shortening conjurations, changing names of God, altering spirit hierarchies, changing the required tools and furnishings, adding bits in, taking bits out, etc., etc.
So, I’ll understand if you find yourself confused and exasperated. You shouldn’t mix systems or deviate from the instructions, except you actually have to. Yet, trust me, there is no change, addition or subtraction you can make to your chosen system that will not result in someone, somewhere, telling you that you’ve done it wrong. I can’t entirely blame those of you who have decided the Solomonic mages can go to gehenna with their convoluted tradition. However, before you begin to wish the Roman Church had succeeded in burning all the blasted grimoires, let’s see if we can’t untangle this knot to some extent.
The Solomonic Tradition Outside the Grimoires
First, you have to understand that the Solomonic tradition—in and of itself—is a thing. I mean in the same way that Wicca is a thing, or the Golden Dawn is a thing, or Christianity is a thing: It is a singular and recognizable tradition that happens to have a large number of different manifestations. In Christianity you have several different sects (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Gnostic being the main divisions). They all have their differences, but any of them can intermix to varying degrees, and/or at least recognize each other as different manifestations of the same larger tradition. For example, a Protestant who likes a Catholic icon of Mother Mary might hang one in her home without much issue, but she would have more explaining to do if she hung up an image of the Buddha or Krishna.
In the case of Solomonic mysticism, the different manifestations take the form of the grimoires, with their differing yet largely similar procedures and instructions. Yet, for all of their differences, they are all based on the same essential occult philosophies and techniques. They are all recognizable as “Solomonic”—even when a text is not directly attributed to that king. Different adepts had their personal ways of going about things, but they were all operating within the same greater tradition, guided by the same basic principles.
This is vastly important, because it means there is a “Solomonic tradition” that over-arches the grimoires themselves. Too often, we tend to view the magick as coming entirely from the books—either in a literary sense (Solomonic magick comes from Solomonic grimoires), or in a magickal sense (the spirits and power of Solomonic magick is bound entirely to the written grimoires). However, I think the truth is that the chicken came before the egg here: that is, the magick and the spirits came first, and the grimoires are merely an expression and encapsulation of the tradition. This explains why the authors of the grimoires were so willing to borrow material from each other—even when their procedures differed. And, it reveals something astounding for you: It is possible to work Solomonic magick without the grimoires at all!
No, I don’t mean you can become a Solomonic wizard without ever studying the Key of Solomon and other old occult texts. What I mean is that you do not have to choose one of the few grimoires that offer a complete system and stick with it for life, nor is it necessary for you to crib together a personal system from several different grimoires. What I do mean is that it is possible to learn and understand the essential principles the magick is based upon, and construct your own conjurations, rituals, talismans, and procedures. As long as the principles you are applying are those of the Solomonic tradition, and not those of (say) Wicca or the Golden Dawn, then your magick is as Solomonic as anyone who has performed the full procedure in the Goetia or Heptameron several times.
My personal magickal work often involves no grimoires at all. For most purposes, when calling upon the aid of my house patrons and familiars, I make use of invocations, Psalms, talismans, and offerings—all done in a completely Solomonic fashion, but not drawing any of the procedure from a specific grimoire. In fact, some of the grimoires themselves attempt to teach us to operate in just this manner. Take the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy as an example: it includes lengthy instructions for how to create talismans, compose conjurations and invocations, observe magickal timing, and much more; but at no point does it provide step-by-step instructions for pre-written rituals. Instead, it teaches you the basic principals behind how the magick works and expects you to put them to practical use on your own. Then, after a few decades, you can write down the stuff that worked best for you, and you will have created a grimoire; and that is how the Solomonic tradition exists before and beyond the written material.
Solomonic Magick Within the Grimoires
Now, I should stress that I certainly consult the grimoires for many things: Such as my dedication to the Book of Abramelin (one of those rare complete systems you can work the rest of your life). My go-to ritual for big issues was adopted from a short treatise on “Mixed Cabala” (i.e. Psalm magick). When I need to consecrate a new ritual tool I will generally follow the instructions provided by the Key of Solomon. And, of course, the angels of the Enochian system sternly insist (at least for me) that the tools and furnishings used to call them must be made exactly as recorded in Dee’s magickal journals.
Thus, in all of these things I am following the written texts; and it is in these cases I follow the instructions without deviation. There are points in these operations where a greater understanding of the Solomonic tradition helps—such as when a system passes over how to perform ritual purifications before the work begins. Or, as with Enochian, simply possessing a basic understanding of how Renaissance angel magick was done (as opposed to how it was done in later post-Victorian magickal lodges) gives you a better idea how Dee himself might have worked. However, at no point do these “complete” systems require you to borrow entire procedures from other grimoires.
These are the cases where it is most important to avoid altering the system. I’ve said this before: If you want to perform the operation outlined in the Key of Solomon, then perform that operation! Don’t mix and match systems and draw from other sources and make changes as you go along, and then go out and proclaim you’ve put the Key to a proper test. You haven’t accomplished that until you have truly performed the operation as outlined in the book. Then, once you’ve made contact with the spirits, they will instruct you on changes you can make and better ways to accomplish your goals. That’s how real magick works.
However, the fact remains, in many cases you are going to run into cryptic and incomplete instructions. Quite often, a text will simply tell you to “prepare for X days” before a ritual, and leave the preparation up to you. If you understand how such preparations are performed in general, you’ll have little problem moving forward in your task. On the other hand, another grimoire may have a preliminary procedure that seems appropriate, and it is not always improper to make use of it. A great example is found in the Enochian system, again: according to Dee’s journals, the angels told him to prepare himself for nine days before attempting a certain ritual, but did not provide specific instructions. Meanwhile, we find the Key of Solomon happens to include a nine-day purification process—with which Dee was likely himself familiar—and there is nothing about that process that would contradict your Enochian work. So, there is no harm in using it.
To be fair, those who speak against “grimoire hopping” are not likely (or at least not often) talking about that kind of scenario. They are probably reacting to one (or both) of two things: 1) Piecing together entire magickal operations from disparate grimoires (or entirely separate occult traditions like the Golden Dawn or Thelema) and/or 2) jumping from one grimoire system to another as if they were garments to be changed at will.
The first one is a bit tricky, and loaded with controversy. Some practitioners insist that drawing anything from outside the grimoires (such as Pentagram and Hexagram rituals) is detrimental to the essential nature of the magick. The worldview of the Solomonic conjurer is different than the later Mason-influenced lodge magician. However, I would point out there is quite an elaborate “Solomonic lodge tradition” that is every bit as valid and powerful as Renaissance angel magick. I would never suggest to those mystics that their chosen systems are somehow inherently wrong. It’s not Renaissance angel magick, but it’s still entirely valid.
Consider, too, my insistence that the spirits will tell you what to change as they desire—and who knows what they’ll ask you to adopt? For example, I performed Abramelin the year before I joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. If you are familiar with Abramelin, you know it is required to burn a lamp of olive oil in your oratory during workings. However, the day I was initiated into the Zelator Grade of the HOGD, as I stood before a seven-branched candlestick, my Guardian Angel whispered in my ear: I want one of those! (She indicated the white candles, not the candlestick.) So, from that day forward I have used a white candle on my Abramelin altar instead of the oil lamp the book requires—and I got the inspiration from my Golden Dawn initiation. Notice, however, that I did not rush off to make a “Golden Dawn Abramelin” ritual entirely mixing the two systems—I simply adopted something my angel requested, because (again) that’s how magick works.
Of course, the same applies even if the adopted material comes from another grimoire. Imagine, for example, you have made contact with a spirit in the Goetia—using the conjurations given in that text—only to have the spirit tell you he hates that conjuration and would rather you use something else. You could write one, or you could ask him if this conjuration over here in the Heptameron would be more to his liking. If he says, “That’s fine,” then you can feel more than free to go ahead and use it. The key here, yet again(!), is that the spirit in question is directing this—it’s not something you are coming up with on your own due to “reasons.”
The second kind of grimoire hopping is a little more cut-and-dry (in my opinion), though students seem to get a bit confused over the issue. Is it acceptable to move from one grimoire system to another on a regular basis—especially to contact the same entities? Also, do the different grimoires all contact the same entities, or does each system contact unique spirits even if they share the same names?
Let me address the second question first: Yes, they are all the same spirits from one grimoire to another. The spelling of their names might change slightly, or the method of contacting them, or even where they fit into the spirit hierarchy outlined in the grimoire. However, Michael is Michael no matter how you call him, Asmodeus (or Ashmodai, or Asmoday, or etc) is still Asmodeus. Calling on them via different methods can result in meeting different aspects of the entity (or what Santeria refers to as different “paths” of the spirit), but they remain different aspects of a single greater being. What you see in the grimoires are merely different methods of establishing contact with those spirits, and your job as a seeker is to simply decide which method calls to you most. If you call the Archangel Michael via the Heptameron, you’re going to meet the same essential guy you’ve been calling via the Armadel. He may come in different robes, colors, and attitude, but he’s still your Michael and he’ll recognize you when he arrives.
And so we have our answer to the first question as well: should you move from one grimoire to another? Well, maybe a bit at first while you are still exploring. However, in the long term you need to find the system that calls to you, and that works best for you, and stick with it. I find that most practitioners who bounce from one grimoire to another to contact the same spirits are generally those who treat the grimoires like order menus. Rather than settling on one or two spirits that work best with them, and developing life-long relationships, they just scan the grimoires for whatever spirit seems to have the functions they desire, and start conjuring. I have stated many times in the past this is a bad idea—it diffuses your efforts and your magickal power. You never build a working relationship with a spirit or spirits you know you can trust, but are forever locked into making one cold first-contact after another in the hopes that maybe this spirit will come through for you.
So, here is the bottom line as I see it: Drawing appropriate material from more than one grimoire is acceptable, sometimes necessary, and completely backed up by the Solomonic literature itself. However, if you’re going to put a grimoire to the test, then put it to the test completely before even considering making any changes or additions. At the same time, it is entirely possible to work the Solomonic tradition without ever dedicating to a specific grimoire at all. You only need to truly understand the occult philosophy behind the magick, and how the old masters wrote their own grimoires to begin with. Above all, don’t treat the grimoires like the yellow pages, assuming you can just “call up” any of the listed spirits who might be able to achieve your desire. Work with different spirits and their different systems until you find the one(s) that speak most to you, then stick with them and build a powerful relationship.
So which kind of practitioner are you? Do you dedicate entirely to a single grimoire? Do you employ general Solomonic magick divorced from any single text? Do you “grimoire hop?” Are you a Solomonic lodge-magician? Or do you just pull up to the spiritual drive-through lane and place your order?
Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.