A brief essay on the origins of some contemporary esoteric ideas.
Over a recent lunch, Professor Ronald Hutton surmised to me that H.P. Lovecraft’s idea of the Necronomicon probably arises from the Arabic Gayat al Hakim manuscript which later appeared in Latin as the Picatrix Grimoire.
The Gayat al Hakim/Picatrix itself shows the strong influence of Egyptian magic and Neo-Platonic and Hermetic magic and leads to conceptions of Planetary Theurgy, which later appear explicitly in the medieval and renaissance grimoires.
The whole idea of a dread grimoire having as its author ‘Abdul Alhazred, the Mad Arab’, fits in rather well with the Gayat or its derivatives having inspired H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos stories, or at least his idea of the Necronomicon.
Planetary magic or at least planetary religion seems to have begun in Hellenic classical cultures when the ancient Greeks and Romans identified some of their gods and goddesses with the planets of the solar system, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon, although the beginnings of this idea appear in the Babylonian culture.
As the classical religions fell to creeping monotheism, the idea of planetary powers or spirits survived in Gnosticism, reappearing as Archons, entities attributed to the various planets which the aspiring Gnostic had to master to achieve spiritual progress. Some Gnostics viewed the Archons as malignant or obstructive spirits standing in the way of the ascent of the adept back to godhood. In the medieval grimoires we also see the idea of some of the planetary intelligences and spirits having malignant characteristics, and such ideas may well have also fed into the Necronomicon mythos, after all the title itself implies a book of ‘dead names’, or at least those of long forgotten gods.
Eventually, ideas from Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, Classical Paganism, Late Classical ‘Pagan Monotheism’, and Gnosticism, The Medieval and Renaissance Grimoires and a late form of Kabala, (together with a dash of spiritualism and colonial orientalism), all come together in the late 19th century to form a grand synthesis that we could call “The Standard Model of Magic’ forged by the adepts of the Golden Dawn (mainly MacGregor Mathers it seems).
From this synthesis comes most of the magical theory and technology on which various people built such traditions as Thelema, Wicca, Neo-Paganism, Neo-Druidry, Chaos Magic, and indeed most of the esoteric components of the New-Age movement, in the second ‘occult revival’ beginning in the last three decades of the 20th century.
In contra-distinction to the prevailing but declining monotheism and the increasingly dominant mechanistic-materialistic scientific world views of the late 19th and 20th centuries, this new esoterics began to view its ‘deities’ not as almighty cosmic creators but as archetypal ‘god-forms’ representing human scale abilities and aspirations, and ‘spirits’ as fundamentally arising from the activities of ourselves and living organisms and natural phenomena, rather than as the authors of such phenomena. Thus magic became again the art and science of theurgy; making ‘spirits’ and ‘godforms’, (or your own subconscious archetypes and parapsychological abilities), perform on demand.
Thus Invocation, Evocation, Divination, Enchantment, and planned Illumination came to replace the religious practices of worshipful prayer or prayerful supplication, and semi-mechanistic parapsychological models of apparently magical phenomena came to augment the developing ‘hard’ scientific paradigm.
The basic techniques came down to ritual enactment, the drawing of various mystical signs and symbols, incantation, visualization, and altered states of consciousness by various physiological means, to which Crowley of course added sex and drugs.
Chaos Magic then added an additional battery of consciousness altering techniques from many sources, and the theory that sacredness, sanctity, and meaning depend entirely on operator choice, rather than on historical or spiritual precedent, thus defining belief as a tool rather than as an end in itself.
Perhaps the most significant development of the second magical revival lay in the realization that you could use any symbolism you liked, ancient or modern or imaginary, and write your own rituals and incantations, and that these would have magical effects so long as you used the appropriate practical techniques, altered states of consciousness, and sleights of mind. This development lay implied in the great synthesis that the adepts of the Golden Dawn created, although they attempted to disguise the fact by attributing their creations to certain ‘secret chiefs’. It became fully explicit only in the second magical revival under the aegis of Chaos Magic where practical techniques assumed primary importance and the symbolic representations of antiquity became regarded as mere window dressings of choice.
Rather than adopt any particular ancient or antique pantheon Chaos Magic built a simple color coded psychocosm based on magical intent;
Blue for works of wealth and power. (~Jupiter)
Orange for works of intellect and quickness. (~Mercury)
Green for works of love and friendship. (~Venus)
Red for works of vitality and aggression. (~Mars)
Black for works of death. (~Saturn)
Silver or Purple for works of Sex. (~Moon)
Yellow for works of Ego and Extraversion (~Sun)
Octarine for works of Pure Magic Research & Quest. (~Uranus)
This scheme functions rather like the modified tree of life kabala that the GD originated except that the spheres do not lie in an hierarchy, but rather in a round table of equality with the possibility of combining archetypes for less straightforward entities, for example the newly revived goddess Eris might appear as having Red-Purple characteristics which we can use to structure an Invocation. Odin for another example; does not equate well with any single sphere derived from classical-kabalistic considerations.
At Arcanorium College, www.arcanoriumcollege.com, an international internet based adventure; we have an ongoing project to create what we have provisionally called The Portals of Chaos, a graphic grimoire. This will consist of a set of CG images on moveable cards which the magician can use for Invocation, Evocation, Enchantment and Illumination as well as just for Divination.
It will bear little resemblance to a conventional Tarot for it will have the above 8 major god forms and their associated planetary ‘spirits’ and intelligences’ as well as 28 god and goddess forms representing ‘mixed’ attributes corresponding to various personality types, assorted deities from many pagan pantheons, and various magical intents.
Plus it will probably have a number of ‘random’ event cards for the anticipation of such in divination or the imposition of such in enchantment.
Also we have chosen the big five entities from the Necronomicon; Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth to represent various cosmic scale phenomena such as panspsychic panspermia, higher dimensionality, eldritch knowledge from morphic fields, and so on.
So, if we aim to create A Worke of Magical Arte, with useful practical applications, then perhaps we continue in a very ancient tradition. All Grimoires then appear as objectively 'fake' including the imaginary ones like the fabled Necronomicon, because the deities and monsters in them derive from cobbled together bits of our own psychology and mythology, which nevertheless can have a real psychological and parapsychological power for us.
Perhaps then we should regard Grimoires in general as 'workes of arte', as convenient analogical impositions, rather than as objective maps of the incredible complexity of the cartography of our own psychology.
In the composition of The Portals we aim to give it all we have got, including superb computer assisted graphic design, in the hope that it will actually improve upon the Picatrix and the Necronomicon ideas, whilst acknowledging them as precursors in an historical tradition of artistic magical thinking........
Plus also magical cup Mk 2. After a fortnight's intense metaphysical struggle it came to me that a Magical Cup should function as a device to stimulate the imagination, rather than to impose a structure on perception, thus its new stochastic design.