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.
The ritual use of offerings, especially in (but not limited to) the form of food items, is one of those “lost secrets of Western magick” you’ve likely heard me talk about before. A lot. It is an art I learned very slowly, over many years, but it was more than worth the effort. Knowing what to offer, what not to offer, when to offer, how to offer, and how all of these things will influence the spiritual being I am working with has been a “game changer” in my practice—as well as the practices of many others who have explored this method of magick.
In my writings on the subject, I have tended toward describing ritual offerings as a form of payment to the spirit. It not only shows fairness toward the entity, but also provides it with the energy necessary to accomplish your goal. I’ve compared it many times to hiring a contractor—you must negotiate a deal and make the payment, or else why would the contractor do any work for you? Even if you pay the spirit after the work is done—a common practice is to make a small offering before, with the promise of a larger payment afterward—it still acts as an energy exchange that gives the spirit what it needs to make changes in the physical world.
But, of course, not everything is so simple. A member of my Solomonic Group on Facebook recently pointed out an anomaly in the spirit-conjuring grimoire called the Goetia. Apparently, the mighty president Malphas should not be given “sacrifice,” as he will accept it “kindly and willingly, but will deceive him that does it.” This strikes me as counter-intuitive on the surface: is it saying that Malphas is willing to work for free, and will react negatively if you do try to pay him??
If this statement had been made elsewhere in the book—say with the magical considerations—or if it had even been phrased in a more universal manner, one could chock it up to the usual anti-Pagan Christian rhetoric. After all, Christian orthodoxy insists that no sacrifice or offering should ever be made to any spirit, for any reason; and it would hardly be the first grimoire to follow that line of thought. (See the Book of Abramelin, for example.) However, the Goetia is not such an example, as there are several spirits in the book to whom some kind of offering must be made in order to gain the spirits’ cooperation. (See both Paimon and Belial.) So this fluke is unique to Malphas, and it is worth discussing why this might be. How exactly does refusing to pay a spirit fit into a tradition that is clearly in favor of making such payments?
I posed this question to the group, and received a lot of good answers. Many of them were, admittedly, educated guesses. For example, there were several suggestions that an offering is more like a donation than a payment, and thus some spirits may choose to work for you even without a donation. In that light, perhaps, offering to make a payment (as if to a contractor) could be insulting. A couple of others suggested that a spirit working under the authority of another spirit (for example, say you have an Archangel bring a lesser spirit to you), then the lesser spirit may get his energy directly from the superior rather than from any offering you could make. While these answers didn’t delve into the nuts and bolts of the spirit tradition as I was hoping, I include them here because they are good suggestions that merit some thought.
Meanwhile, a few of the other suggestions really stood out for me—perhaps largely because they were posted by folks who have experience in other traditions (like the ATRs) that have been working with spirits in this fashion for a very long time.
One member immediately pointed out that, according to legend, the Fey will become offended if one attempts to pay them for their services. This was supported by another member who pointed out that some spirits do not wish to be fed, but instead desire payment in another form—such as doing some kind of work for them in return. I am familiar with some spirits that desire you to publicly thank them for services rendered, and even some that would rather you make a donation in their name to a charity. Thus, we can see right away that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be trapped into a single mode of thinking: Food, candles, and incense are hardly the only appropriate payments one can make to a spirit. One could work out many kinds of deals with the entity—depending largely on the tradition and what the individual spirit wants and needs.
Finally, the conversation took a more serious turn. As our culture is taking a step back from the hard-core dualism of the past, and the fundamentalist view of all spirits as “evil,” we have sometimes made the mistake of going too far in the other direction: assuming that all spirits are “good guys.” What some of us have learned, the hard way, is that not all spirits are going to be friendly. Even if you treat them with respect and feed them. Maybe even especially then.
Yes there are spirits out there who embody nasty things like sickness, pain, anger, and death. There are spirits out there who will harm you the moment they get the chance. It is not a matter of good vs. evil—but, just like people or other wild animals, some of them are just plain jerks to whom your best interest is not a concern. In other traditions, there are spirits who are considered just plain bad that can be put to use, but are not given altars and offerings.
Frankly, this sounds a lot like how the grimoires view chthonic spirits in general. Again I point out the Book of Abramelin, which warns us against ever making the slightest offering to the spirits, or allowing them to negotiate with us in any way. It is clearly working under the assumption that every spirit is an infernal one, and treats them accordingly. Personally, I have found that not all the Abramelin spirits are willfully harmful—but some of them most certainly are (or can be)! This grimoire, more than any other, devotes some time to explaining how the spirits can—and will if you let them—gain the upper hand in their relationship with you. Therefore, its admonitions against allowing the spirits to demand anything whatsoever from you are understandable.
Another member of the Solomonic group shared an anecdote that supports this viewpoint. He once worked with the demon king Paimon (another one from the Goetia), who was being particularly stubborn during the evocation process. The spirit demanded an offering, and the practitioner went ahead and made it in the hopes of strengthening the working. Instead, it only allowed the spirit to grow stronger and more uncontrollable, and he eventually suffered negative consequences. To put it simply, he allowed the spirit to seize control of the relationship, after which it took full advantage. These spirits can bite, folks!
Other group members soon affirmed that some spirits will try to trick, cajole, threaten, or beseech you to give them offerings/payment up front so they can just take it and run. Or, even better, establish you as a gullible food-source. Just like a crooked unlicensed contractor…or maybe a televangelist. I strongly suspect this is what happened to the person who attempted to work with Paimon: the spirit simply saw an opportunity to gain the upper hand, and (in that case) it worked. Fortunately the lesson was learned.
I suspect this is also the truth behind the anomaly of Malphas in the Goetia. It is sometimes overlooked that the grimoire’s instructions are focused upon first-contact protocols; that is, it describes how to summon the spirits for the first time (cold contact), but doesn’t get into how to work with them afterward. Therefore, it is entirely possible the instruction is telling us not to make an offering to Malphas during the evocation, or else he will deceive the practitioner by taking the offering without working in return. If so, it is not likely harmful to negotiate a form of payment with the spirit to be made upon completion of the task.
In fact, tradition discourages us from making offerings to spirits before the work is done, or “just because we like them.” While a small offering can be made during an evocation, in order to attract the spirit, the full offering should be negotiated and then paid after the work is accomplished. This is just one way the practitioner can stay in charge of the relationship.
And, we must also consider when a spirit does not want or desire an offering, or if it wants something different than we assume it should. And (this is important!), we must also learn which spirits are openly hostile toward us and with whom we should either work only within strict protocols, or with whom we shouldn’t work at all. Always, always, have your head-spirit or Patron give a thumbs-up before you attempt to work with any unknown entities!
We Westerners have a lot to learn about this art! Stay safe, and stay in charge!
Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.