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On Evocation and Magical Practice
on May 31, 2012
In order to offer a proper evaluation of Dr. Lisiewski's books, it is first necessary to put forward my own theory, as a practicing magician, of exactly what place Grimoires, both modern and ancient, occupy in the practice of magic.
Put simply, I believe that they are portals into the particular magical paradigm that informs them.
Taking this into account justifies some, conditional, approval of what Dr. Lisiewski puts forward, both in Ceremonial Magic, and Howlings From the Pit. He is entirely correct to assert that the rituals set down in books such as the Heptameron, and the Lesser Key of Solomon, need to be performed as they are...in most cases...
I attach that caveat because it brings me to the starting point of describing what I find problematic about Dr. Lisiewski's views on how magic aught to be performed.
The best way to clarify this, is to begin with the authors own idea of what he calls the "Subjective Synthesis". This is another strong point of his argument, but one that carries a extrapolation that he seems curiously unaware of. An element of his history of magic can be used to illustrate this.
Dr. Lisiewski contends that the medieval Grimoires were written by low level clergy, who were seeking a way to physical and spiritual fulfillment, not provided by the Church of their era. This seems tenable enough. He further asserts that these clergy had access to documents from ages prior to their own; copies of magical doctrine and rites, and that it was these they drew upon to create the Grimoires. And, again, I concur...
But, the crucial issue here is that, obviously, they would have had to change and adapt what they found. Even assuming that some of the lore was of early Christian and/or Gnostic character, (left over from the waning days the Roman Imperium), it seems inarguable that most of what they used was pagan. But, Dr. Lisiewski's much touted Grimoires of the middle ages, and Renaissance, call upon the name of Christ, and Jehovah, and the various Biblical figures of Judaeo-Christian myth and folklore. At no point do we find them calling upon Zeus, or Hekate. It is always Judaeo-Christian myth that is invoked.
I am familiar with the argument that much of what appears in the Bible, and therefore in the Grimoires, is actually pagan in origin; "the names have been changed to protect the guilty", I believe is an apt phrase. But, even if this is so, it serves only to beg the question that I now, come to.
Namely, that for the Christian writers of the Grimoires to have produced the rites in these books, they would have had to change the lore they studied. Yes, they would have had to had a sound understanding of the theories that made the rites work; a grasp of what dynamics were being manipulated, the correspondences between certain pagan archetypes and their Christian analogs. This would have been a part of their own "Subjective Synthesis". But, need I point out that the word "synthesis" implies the process of taking seemingly disparate symbols, concepts, etc., and blending them together? Yes, it would be necessary to, again, have a clear understanding of the connections between these ideas. One could not simply throw together anything that came to mind, and expect it would work. Nonetheless, Lisiewski's theory on the creation of the Grimoires, and on how magic operates, argues, quite clearly, for the idea that a magician may take elements from different systems, even different rites, and build a magical rite that allows for success and potency.
I would also like to point out, that Dr. Lisiewski frequently describes magic in terms of a cause and effect relationship. I am not sure exactly how literally he takes the description, as some of his comments in Howlings From the Pit demonstrate that he is more than competent in the realm of Quantum theory; I cannot imagine that a man of his erudition would be some kind of throw back to a purely Newtonian view of the universe. Nonetheless, he has been, for the majority of his adult life, an empirical methodologist. It seems worth our time to consider that his immersion in this technique defined how magic would work for him. This, again, is something that he never seems to consider.
(As a side note: No less an authority than Stephen Hawking has demonstrated that the cause and effect chain breaks down on the sub-atomic level. Dr. Lisiewski's credentials as a physicist would suggest that he is aware of this. But, besides a few comments in Howlings From the Pit, he seems to not have considered the possibility that magic may not be a strictly causal phenomena; and if it isn't causal, then it is not, epistemologically speaking, a phenomenon at all; except in the most general sense of the term. Rather, magic may be the process of projecting a desire into a realm that is anterior to the cause and effect chain. This could account for the fact that a successful magical operation seems to assemble phenomena to achieve the goal projected...)
There are three other issues, broached in Lisiewski's books that I would like to address.
First, his comments that magical practices such as the G. D. Pentagram rituals are entirely without merit, and should be discarded in favor devotional practices involving prayer. Having used the G.D. Pentagram ritual (the Lesser), I can say that he is entirely incorrect. Their efficacy is not as overt, or awe-inspiring as the evocations of the Grimoires, but they work admirably well for what they were intended for. Here is yet another example of Lisiewski failing to make an obvious connection. The LPR functions very well as a devotional mechanism in itself, analogous to periods of prayer, etc. The question of their efficacy needs to be addressed to the intensity and consistency of the synthesis that informs it, and not dismissed out of hand.
Second, is his assertion in Ceremonial Magic, that the vibration of Divine or Barbarous Names is another New Age effusion designed to distract the adept from a lack of objective effect. I agree that the practice of vibrating the Names is not required for many workings, such as the medieval Grimoires; but I have used it in Runic practice, and have seen a demonstrable effect produced, precisely because of the esoteric principle of the Magical Voice. (The ancient papyri also contain examples in which it is clear that in order to properly incant the Names, the vowels would be drawn out, and this would necessitate a vibration of the Names.)
Lastly, and on a more personal note, I take issue with his comments as to the virtual necessity of, on some level, accepting or making peace with the religious paradigm that exercised influence on us in our formative years. This objection, on my part rests on the following points. If we accept that magic is about a correspondence between inner and outer worlds, and that it is to serve as a tool for transforming objective reality by this correspondence, than we have to at least consider that one of the uses of magic is to reach into these deep, preconscious realms, and transform them. As above, so below; as within so without. Of equal importance in this issue is Dr. Lisiewski's argument in favor of this capitulation to inherited religious paradigms, (conditional though it may be). It rests on the notion that this prevents a inner conflict that undermines magical efficacy. But, the same principle can be applied conversely; if a person has strong, emotive, reactions against their religious upbringing, accepting those ideas in a magical act could also create a backlash or a lessening of effect.
It is true that magic is not mere subjective fantasy, and that rigor of method and thought are cornerstones of successful magical practice. But, based on my own experience in practicing magic, (not as extensive as Dr. Lisiewski's, but well over two decades), I believe that his insistence that "this is how magic really works" should not be regarded as the final word on the subject.