After a few delays, Scarlet Imprint has released Geosophia, a re-examination of the grimoire tradition via the examination of ancient cultures. This is the latest work by Jake Stratton-Kent, the author of the True Grimoire (here’s Parts 1, 2, and 3 of my review), forming an attempt to create new significances for the practitioners of ceremonial magic. A sample of the introduction is available on the publisher’s site.
This massive two-volume work begins with an examination of the beliefs and mysteries of ancient Greece, using the epic Argonautica as a template for exploration of various mythical figures and concepts. Key to this exploration is the goes, ritual practitioners who made contact with and dealt with the dead. The name of these ritualists became transformed into our word goetia, which has come to mean interaction with demons and evil spirits. Stratton-Kent’s objective here is to explore the original context of these individuals, and to explain how they came down to the present.
What we get is a stunning amount of information about various aspects of Greek myth, with emphasis upon the earlier, chthonic beliefs, those that existed outside of the later state cults of the gods. The same strands are examined in the Greek magical papyri, and then through the Picatrix. This is interspersed with Stratton-Kent’s meditations on the implications this journey has for modern practice of grimoire magic.
I’m going to examine this book from the standpoint of history. Some might say that this is looking at the work in the incorrect manner – indeed, the introduction suggests that the discussion within is a spiritual history, not a chronological one – but there’s enough discussion of origins and derivations within the book to make this viable. From that perspective, Geosophia tells us a compelling story about the origins of Western magic, but equally valid stories are possible.
For example, in the emphasis upon Greece and the surrounding region, we see very little discussion of Mesopotamian belief or practice in the book. Simon’s exaggerations aside, those civilizations brought us much of the basic ritual structure, the circle drawn on the ground, many of the specific demons present in later magic, libraries of magical texts, necromantic practices, and other legacies that have lasted to the present era. In fact, Sara Iles Johnston, in her book Restless Dead, suggests that a Mesopotamian origin for the goes is quite possible. If so, where does that leave this project?
I can highlight the magical papyri as another example of the same pattern. First, we have yet to find much indication that the magical papyri are indicative of Greek practice, or a stepping stone to later varieties of magic. More recent scholarship has tended toward de-emphasizing Greek spirits and concepts in the papyri, seeing them instead as works, partially written in demotic script, which Egyptian priests used in latter-day Egyptian temples and that are based in Egyptian processes and practices. Further, though the parallels with magic from later periods are striking, there’s little indication that the papyri became significant outside of its home setting. Stratton-Kent cites the use of Jewish names and characteres as signs that their influence lived on – but these can also be found elsewhere in magical traditions from the same period.
This is not to say that one cannot create a compelling argument for ritual practice from the material here, but it’s quite possible to create other such arguments, based on interpretation of the evidence at hand.
I should also note that we have some curious omissions from the text. For example, for a book based on the quest for the Golden Fleece, the actual encounter with that object is scantly covered (though there could very well be mystical significance to this). I was also surprised that the book’s section on Roman religion did not touch upon the necromantic ritual in the Aeneid or Lucan’s Civil War, though the literary nature of those sources likely explains it.
Arriving at the conclusion, I felt that the book had ended one chapter too soon. Though the book touches on the links with the grimoire tradition – not that of the Picatrix, but that of the early modern grimoires with which most practitioners are familiar – it never comes together at the end. We do have parallels, as the author illustrates, but it seems the overall program remains quite different in character. My own theory is that, in a sense, that we can’t. We can talk about the possible correspondences between the goes and the modern ceremonial magician, but in truth their worlds and practices are very different. What has been outlined here, despite the attempts to bring together these disparate practices, is not a re-envisioning of the grimoire tradition, but the establishment of something both old and new. It would have been fascinating to see how that develops, and I hope to hear more about it someday.