– by Jake Stratton-Kent
This article first appeared on Watkins Mind Body Spirit, issue 28.
Geosophia – the Argo of Magic is by any definition an unusual addition to contemporary magical literature. It disregards a lot of ‘given’ thinking about the origins of magic, and completely reappraises the subject of goetia. Gone is the old certainty that Kabbalah is the great source of Western magic (in which it played no part before the late C15th). Gone too is the equally unhistorical notion that goetia is – and should be – defined by an early modern English conjure book (The Goetia of Solomon, mid C17th).
Yet it was not mere disbelief in these notions that inspired Geosophia; the mental processes involved were more complex. Firstly, convinced by the arguments of Ronald Hutton, I rejoiced as my sacred cows were shot down in flames. Then the real origins of Western magic – represented essentially by the grimoire tradition and its predecessors – became the object of my quest. While researching my True Grimoire the importance of the Hellenistic Greek origins of the genre became increasingly tangible; thus the research for Geosophia began before True Grimoire even had a publisher.
My long term interest in the Greek Magical Papyri provided much of the initial groundwork. A chance comment by Juliette Williams identified the Idaean Dactyls as the first ‘goetic magicians’ named in Western literature. This set me on the trail of primeval Western magicians, rather than – as is often the case – their Oriental influences alone.
In Geosophia then we see some astonishing fruits of this research. Core themes were unearthed from academic papers, but are presented from the perspective of a practitioner with strong historical interests. Nevertheless this is not a history book, but an exploration of the Mystery cults and background mythos in essentially their own terms. At the same time key historical data are placed in perspective for the first time in a modern magical text. Often understated but breath taking points abound. The Magical Papyri are the forerunners of the grimoires, and the Orphic books represent the stage prior to that. This much itself is news to many, but the context is still more astonishing. The telling point is that this older literature represents the very first spiritual tradition founded on mysterious texts, rather than received collective tradition or state institution. Moreover, it represents the first expression of individualism in Western spirituality. Western magic therefore was never rooted in dogma, be it pagan or Christian. This is the individualistic ancestry of the grimoires, which sings in their genes to this day.
Geosophia is distinct from academic approaches, and many occult books besides, in not viewing the Western tradition as a static retrospective inheritance broken into disconnected historical and cultural niches. On the contrary it presents a vision of a continuum involving Past, Present and Future. In tracing the roots of the ancient synthesis the cross cultural nature of the fusion is emphasised, while retaining a Western perspective. Far from encouraging a re-enactment of a Greek past, there is a strong emphasis on the near equivalence of central neglected elements to modern influences from the African Traditional Religions. This materially assists and encourages a forward looking vision of magic.
Of central importance throughout is the great taboo subject of contemporary Western culture, the subject of Death and its relation to the spirit world. This represents another understated but penetrating insight into the origins of magical thought. The astonishing near complete omission of this central aspect in contemporary understanding of Western magic is highlighted dramatically. Its centrality in other traditions, from which we have much to learn, is sufficient support for this case; once the omission is recognised, which it rarely is. Thus Geosophia’s raising the much maligned topic of necromancy to the central issue of magic in every culture is both audacious and controversial. Reintegration of this theme is feasible, favoured by the New World African influences just mentioned. Such a modern synthesis – comparable to the emergence of western magic from the Hellenistic world 2000 years ago – is essential to rectify this debilitating absence. Geosophia recognises that this task requires a re-examination of pre-Christian traditions; careful handling of the incoming African influences with which I compare them; equally scrupulous avoidance of superficial pick and mix approaches. In this it departs completely from glib modern definitions of magic as ‘willed control of change, whether of consciousness or circumstances’. Reasserted in their place is the primitive and universal theme of ‘Practical Eschatology’.
At the same time this is a practitioner’s book, and ‘low magic’ in various guises is not neglected. On the contrary, a variety of practical workings and approaches may be found throughout. My perspective simply rejects the issue of ‘control’ in favour of ‘participation in a process’. In pursuing necromantic themes I identify what process exactly it is we are participating in. Viewing spirits as simple agencies of our material needs whose cooperation – whether voluntary or forced – lacks any explanation or context, is ultimately nonsensical. By returning magic to its true eschatological roots, Geosophia provides a context for spirit work that is simultaneously relevant to perennial human needs, fears and spiritual aspirations.
The magnitude of this reappraisal and its implications is difficult to overstate. It uncovers a true Western Mystery tradition; comparable to the great traditions of the East. The irony is that while many previously sought it, it is found precisely in that which they railed against; the most vilified and neglected aspects of Western magic.
Geosophia – The Argo of Magic
Vol.I and II
Scarlet Imprint/Bibliotheque Rouge
£17.00, Available from Watkins Books