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.
I live a double life. Well…let me rephrase that slightly: I live a double occult life. If you add my mundane working existence to the mix, it could be said I live a triple life. But that’s really beside the point. My point is that, as an occultist, I’m burning the ritual candle at both ends.
Not that this is exactly news to some of you. I’ve seen the discussions in some of the forums: “Is Aaron Leitch a sorcerer, or a ceremonial magician?” Cases are made for both possibilities. There is certainly no discounting my deep involvement with the grimoires and Solomonic conjure. I talk quite a bit about the Old Magick, shamanism, the ATRs, and the return of pre-Golden Dawn occult philosophy. One of my greatest teachers was/is Ochani Lele, the famous Santo and author. I have let go of the 19th Century-born psychological model of magick. (Note that says “psychological model of magick,” not “psychology in its entirety.”) And, where it comes to this kind of magick, you won’t see my quoting from Mathers, Crowley, or even Regardie. I call down angels, conjure spirits, gather herbs and dirts and special waters; let’s face it, this is more a kind of witchcraft than it is “ceremonial” magick.
I am a member of the HOGD. That’s the Cicero Order—straight down the initiatory line from Israel Regardie himself—and you’ll find me right in its’ Mother Temple. That is technically ground zero for the modern Golden Dawn movement, and the very embodiment of the magickal current that was born in the Victorian era. Mathers, Crowley, Regardie—even the Ciceros themselves (who, like Ochani, are among my greatest teachers)—are the very people you don’t see me quote in my Solomonic writings. Shouldn’t this current represent everything I say I left behind as a practitioner?
Though I’ve seen it debated (when no one knew I was watching) which camp I “really belong in,” I was actually kind of surprised that no one had ever thought to write to me and ask. Until recently, that is, when someone finally sent me a private message that said (and I paraphrase here): “How exactly do you reconcile the Golden Dawn and Solomonic currents? What exactly do you get from the Golden Dawn that helps your practice?”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the golden question. Given everything I disagree with about modern magickal philosophy, is there something I believe the Golden Dawn got right after all? You bet there is! And I’ve even mentioned it in a previous blog: what the West got right, magickally speaking, was Theurgy. The purification and elevation of the Self to its own innate Godhood. They have the initiatory process down cold, and it works!
The grimiores do not suppose a complete layperson can simply open a book and start commanding spirits. Instead, one is expected to have gained some training and spiritual authority before attempting the magick. In the Key of Solomon, one is instructed to attain the “rank or degree of Exorcist” (which, at the time, was a specific Order of the Church for which you had to be trained and ordained) and several other grimoires refer to the practitioner as “exorcist” or some variation of the term. Therefore (and this is something I’ve written about in depth), they certainly recognized the necessity of some kind of spiritual authority on the part of the practitioner.
Today I am an ordained Gnostic priest, and my Bull of Ordination says I have full rights to perform exorcism. So I now meet the literal requirement of the Key…—though it is more in letter than in spirit, because today “Exorcist” isn’t a stand-alone Order with specialized training. I may have the official “right” to perform exorcism—but that alone doesn’t make me someone the spirits should feel compelled to obey.
No, spiritual authority comes from months and years of study, practice, and initiation. Now, I don’t mean to make this a debate over what, exactly, constitutes an “initiation”—whether it must be done in a full Temple, or if you can self-initiate, etc. My point is, however you view the process itself, you must undertake a process by which you are purified, rectified, and elevated to a higher (and thus stronger) spiritual condition. You must “Know Thyself” before attempting to know the spirits—because, if you don’t, those spirits will take full advantage of you. Every complex, every neurosis, every un-examined habit or assumption you possess is a potential point that can be exploited by the spirits to gain control of the relationship.
Not to mention the vastly important (and all-too-often overlooked) requirement that the spirits should know who you are, and that you should be someone they would respect. Take this example (one of my favorite scenes from the New Testament):
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. (Acts 19:13-16)
It simply isn’t enough to perform a ritual, say a few words, and expect the spirits to take you seriously. “Jesus we know. Solomon we know. Cyprian we know. But who are you?” Had the exorcists in the above tale had a good answer to that, they may have fared better. When I perform my rituals, convoking the spirits from above or beneath, I make sure to include a statement of exactly who I am. I am Aaron Leitch, Frater Odo Caosg, a 5=6 Adept and Initiating Hierophant of the HOGD, author of…, etc, etc. You know—basically all the things that would make me a self-absorbed douche if I signed all my posts with them. The kinds of things you use to pad out a resume. Such self-aggrandizement is acceptable in a resume, and that resume should be submitted to the spirits you wish to summon. It answers the question “who are you?” before it can even be asked.
Now, before you start your comment, let me make something clear: I am in no way suggesting that you cannot be an effective conjuror unless you join a highfalutin’ esoteric Order, or publish books, or become a spiritual leader (though none of those things would hurt your efforts)! That’s just how I went about it because I’m a big-mouth who insists on being a public figure in an occult (hidden) world. What I’m really driving at is that you must do something to increase your personal spiritual authority. And undertaking some form of initiatory path is the key. The Book of Abramelin provides one path to spiritual authority (complete with your Holy Guardian Angel to back you up). Joining an esoteric order is another. Even undertaking a path of self-initiation (such as outlined in the Ciceros’ Self Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition) is a massive step in the correct direction. Think of it as an introduction to the spirits whose respect you will eventually earn through dedication and work.
I will admit that my understanding of the Old Magick informs much of what I do in the Golden Dawn. For example, I don’t believe we merely work with “godforms” that manifest from the Self—when I sit in Temple and invoke the deity of my Office, I’m talking to a very real deity. When we perform evocations, my wife and I bring food offerings. (That one really shocked some of our fellow Temple members—but they got used to it, and now they even bring such offerings themselves.) We even have an altar set up for Raphael in our Temple—not for any specific working or ritual, but just an altar where Temple members can come and make prayers and offerings whenever they feel the need. Pure idolatry, I tell you!
(For the record, though, I can’t take credit for all of this in my Temple. The Ciceros and a few other members were treating the gods and angels as real and objective beings before I arrived on the scene. Thankfully, that has made this one particular Temple very friendly for experimenting with these concepts.)
I also view our initiations as something more akin to what things were like in ancient Greek mystery schools—that the new candidates are being formally introduced to the gods and spirits we work with, and initiated into their mysteries. None of this supplants the psychological aspects of the ritual drama, or the visualizations, or the talismanic imaging we use for the “godforms,” or any of that great modern Hermetic theurgic stuff! Instead, the Old Magick simply adds another layer to it all, and allows me to connect with forces that are far larger, and far older, than what happens to be in my head.
So do I consider myself a Hermeticist or a conjuror? The answer, probably unsurprisingly, is that I am absolutely both, all the way to the core. Each practice informs the other—though I never attempt to create a “Golden Dawn Conjure” (no matter how awesome that sounds!) or even a “Hoodoo Golden Dawn” (which sounds absolutely terrible!). But the primary and most important manner in which these two currents work together in my life is the spiritual evolution, and eventually authority, I have gained via the Hermetic initiatory path. This authority—this earned knowledge and experience (of both myself and the Western Mysteries)—is brought to bear in my personal work with the spirits of nature. It is how I have gained their respect.
When I find it necessary to exorcise a spirit, I go in knowing exactly who I am and what I have accomplished. If a spirit demands to know who you think you are, will you have an answer, or run from the house naked and bleeding?
Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.