So I managed to make it through another chapter in Aaron Leitch’s Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires. So far, the book seems to move through a repeated cycle:
- Take an element from the practice of some shamans;
- State that this element is therefore “shamanic”;
- State that any manifestation of that element in other religious practices must derive from shamanism;
- Quote a number of examples from Biblical times that display the element;
- Quote Agrippa or Dee, to establish learned magic as the norm;
- Toss in a few, often stretched, references in the grimoire tradition;
- Conclude that the grimoires include shamanic elements.
The first section of this chapter covers Robert Anton Wilson’s eight circuits of consciousness, as expressed in Prometheus Rising. Leitch places the spirit summoning of the grimoires on the level of attaining ecstasy and contacting one’s genetic memory. I’m not quite sure where he’ll go with this later, but I’m willing to wait and see.
We then arrive at the section on psychotropics, which proclaims mind-altering drugs to be the driving force behind religion. (I’m willing to admit that they played a role, but setting them up as a cross-cultural driver for all spirituality seems extreme.) Leitch spends a great deal of time arguing that cannabis was a key component in the Israelite’s anointing oil, a position on which I’m uncertain of the exact evidence. I should note, however, that no such ingredient appears in the temple incense, where it might be expected.
What does this have to do with the grimoires? This is much less certain. Leitch first suggests that the illusion magic in many of the grimoires, aimed at creating phantasmal soldiers, castles, feasts, and the like, derives from psychotropic substances. The prohibition against eating magical or faerie food, for example, is the result of the meals of magic mushrooms served by Pictish shamans to their neighbors. I wish I could say there was much support for this. Leitch then draws together a ceremony from the Picatrix that involves creating oil from opium, the use of incense in the Goetia, and a Key of Solomon rite involving sitting inside a carpet with a burning brazier, suggesting that all three were the result of psychotropics, mentions of which the grimoire authors conveniently omitted. Why smoke inhalation is an insufficient cause for the altered mental state (if less dramatic) he does not say.
Next we arrive at the section on sensory deprivation, which can also be used to bring about altered states of consciousness. This discussion really doesn’t work in terms of understanding the grimoires. Much as the author might try to draw parallels between living a chaste, temperate, and pious lifestyle, it simply can’t compare with spending hours in a sensory deprivation tank. The closest example Leitch can give is a section of the Abramelin ritual in which the magician prostrates himself for three hours – and since he’s wearing a sackcloth shirt, it’s not likely that he’s being deprived of his senses.
The final section deals with fasting, which I think is rather accurate and has a basis in the grimoire literature.
Overall, I think that Leitch has found a toolbox of techniques that work for attaining his own path to spiritual enlightenment and might work for others. I simply think he has little evidence that these techniques are an integral part of the grimoire tradition as practiced in previous centuries.