The Nature of the Spirits, Continued

I should point out that my response to the last post was delayed because I was hoping to announce another grimoire coming out.  As that didn’t happen, let me address some of the contents:

Chris says:

Well, Dan, you mention the tradition of working with jinn. Since Islam is a monotheistic (tawhid), Abrahamic faith, there’s no wiggle room for commanding Allah, but there is for the jinn, who are created beings such as ourselves. Humans can command a whole range of other fellow creatures, why not “spirits” — i.e., beings that are not quite physical in the same manner in which we are?

Indeed.  I have to point out that my example here is not exactly one of appropriation, as the djinn are spirits that do appear in the Koran.  Nonetheless, I think the djinn have indeed come to play an important part because of Islam’s monotheism – and, I should add, something of a hardcore monotheism, unlike, say, Catholicism, where you can have any number of spiritual beings to whom one might appeal when in need.

I would say that there are certainly some parallels to human relations in other contexts – such as the Jewish treatment of exorcism in terms of annulling a marriage.

Bobby says:

So it might not be weird to lump Oberon and Satan together, from a particular viewpoint, if they’re both treated as angels subject to the laws of God as applied by man, yadda yadda.

That’s one of the curious aspects of the Folger manuscript, indeed.  One notable element is the “Offices of the Spirits,” a common magical genre of which the Goetia is the most famous example enhanced with the sigils of individual spirits.  The one we have here tosses Oberion on near the end of a list of the denizens of hell, which tells you something of the author’s view toward the spirit.

Huth says:

Whether or not the cosmological constructions on display in the grimoire tradition is from ‘other’ belief systems depends on who you believe gets to define ‘Christianity.’ For most the religion’s history, we only get a vanishingly small slice of writing on the actual practices and beliefs of people who profess to belong to it; generally only those who are either invested in a concept of rigourous orthodoxy or writing to revise or define an alternate stance. An impartial survey, were it possible, may put the clerical stance on what constitutes a demon, evil spirit or malicious force in the minority.

I would disagree with this particular point.  I’m sure there were many different Christianities, based on various combinations of accepted theology, various heresies, and pre- and post-Christian folk beliefs.  I also think that, through most of Europe in the medieval period, there was one generally accepted dogma backed up with both swords and gold, which gave them an effective veto over the other Christianities, keeping them from gaining much power and influence (with perhaps the Cathars being the strongest of the others, and look what happened to them).  As such – and this should be borne out when more medieval books of magic come to light and are published – if you were a magician, you wanted to make sure you were operating within that dominant Christianity to avoid getting one’s knuckles rapped, especially if you were writing things down.

Then came the Renaissance, and that brings us to Ron’s comment:

I would suggest one take a gander at Agrippa’s third book of occult philosophy, particularly chapters 16 and 17, where we find two distinctly different views toward spiritual beings, that of the Neoplatonic and that of the Theologian. I persoanlly prefer the more Pagan, Neoplatonic attitude, and apply that in my own work with spirits.

I think there’s a third one sneaking about in those chapters – Jewish cosmology.  Agrippa is a product of his own time, when scholars began seriously engaging with other belief systems and the potential that they might be correct.  That’s when writers such as Ficino and Mirandola start bringing in Neoplatonism and Judaism, giving the aspiring magician even more material with which to legitimize their practice.  Indeed, the post-medieval history of Western magic might be seen as an ongoing process in which successive practitioners moan and say, “Ah hell! What are we going to do with this crap? Let me see…” before yet another wave of alternative ideologies hits.

Feel free to respond in the comments.

Published in: on June 3, 2011 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I’ve always been told that denatured spirits potentially caused blindness and that djinn were best controlled with tonics…

    Another hundred of those and I can work the Chuckle-Hut as the first “theories of magic” comedian. Maybe I should get some sleep

    Agrippa? I barely have a handle on the guy!

    Tip you servers

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