One could argue that the whole mystery tradition in the West is characterized by typologies and catalogues.
The general rule is that when you catalogue, you categorize and when you categorize, you make distinctions.
Making distinctions is in fact precisely that which separates the various mystical and magical traditions. You go East, distinctions tend to blur and nondualism is in focus. You go West, you go structuralist, focusing on binary opposites and exclusion.
Categorization creates exclusion by definition. So when you create a catalogue you relegate the idea of exclusion to a higher level. This can be either good or bad, depending on your cultural orientation. I myself don’t get too excited, as my leanings are precisely nondualist.
But I do get excited when I see what people do when they catalogue and classify. In fact, in academic circles where I’ve been roaming for most of my life, cataloguing equals human imagination.
The whole Western discourse on magic can be said to be about human imagination and its intricate ways of mediating embodiment. That’s right, you heard that correctly: embodiment.
Although what we call Western mysteries is mostly all about spirits, high and low, what we make of these spirits is very much the work of imagining embodiment and form. If you think that you’re good at scrying, conjuring, or reading smoke, what you do is conceptualize form. This is indeed a very useful method, and can be very efficient in your magical working. Especially if you don’t dig nondualism.
Cataloguing various forms of spirits, all according to their embodiments and functions, is a way of conceptualizing what you think in words. Imagine invoking or conjuring Baal and not having a clue as to what Baal looks like or what he can do for you. It’s rather time consuming to sit there and stare into emptiness, scratching your brain. You will get not only tired of it, but also disappointed.
As a general rule, in any act of conjuring or working with the spirits of the grimoires, if you expect to see a particular kind of demon, you see precisely a particular kind of demon. If you expect to have an encounter with a particular kind of angel or a spirit king, you will have precisely an encounter with a particular kind of angel or a spirit king.
In fact, we could argue that your imagination rules over your distinctions, but the inverse is also the case, your distinctions rule over your imagination. That’s what we call a system of classification.
Classified spirits is called a grimoir. According to what rule exactly we classify spirits and gather them in various grimoirs is very much a matter of cultural distinction, but we could argue that while spirits are not of your mind, they are very much part of your awareness of them, with awareness overruling your own internal and external psychology that is mainly the product of your own cultural history.
In other words, while your mind creates worlds, spirit worlds and other, awareness is busy with mirrors and modalities of holding mirrors up in your face, if we care to assign agency to awareness — a rather dumb thing to do, but for the sake of illustrating, we’ll go with it.
Say, you decide to hang out with Lucifer at the crossroads. How do you do that? You can do that in several ways: some easy, some hard.
Here is the easy way: You can pick up a grimoir and start reading descriptions. What is Lucifer? How does he manifest? What is his history? What is his personality? What is his rank? What can he do for you?
I hear he’s very beautiful, and a prince of princes. But how do we know that? The truth is that we don’t know anything. If you think you know, then think of where this knowledge is derived from: Either you’ve just read that about Lucifer in a book, or, you’ve ‘seen’ it with our own eyes. Fair enough. Each event is valid as it is based on experience: The experience of reading, and the experience of emotion. When Lucifer hits you in the gut, you can swear he hit you in the gut. So you can’t be in doubt.
If you’re a little bit in doubt, you can grab some item in your magical arsenal and divine for your experience. My specialty, for instance, is cards, or smoke from burning wormwood. Take out your cards and pay attention. The story of your experience can suddenly become very specific: It’s not just a world you encounter, but the infernal world of Hell itself. Cards for me can make that world very vivid and specific. According to the good books, Lucifer presides in Hell and spirits obey him in recognition of his lordship over hell. How do they all go about it? Read some bones and some stones, while you sit there sweating through your fears.
Here is the hard way: You go to the crossroads and consciously use language to utter the words of conjuration as a means of conceptualization of form. You can list all the names too. Preferably in Latin.
If you’re good at practicing awareness, you can allow for each name to move from conjuration to co-creation. If you are an adept at awareness, you will look into an empty mirror, for what is there that you conjure? Names? Language? Alphabets made up of symbolic glyphs? You start laughing at yourself.
This is the point where it gets interesting, for you realize instantly that as you gaze into the empty mirror, you actually gaze into the very working of Lucifer. Above all, and in my own experience, Lucifer loves language. He gives life to your glyphs. That’s his domain.
I won’t make a fuss about this here, as what I actually want to talk about is Jake Stratton-Kent’s new book with Haden Press: Pandemonium: A Discordant Concordance of Diverse Spirit Catalogues, and its usefulness in navigating through what you aim to experience in the spirit world.
Those familiar with Stratton-Kent’s work know already what to expect: Solid and robust scholarship. Pandemonium lives up to this reputation: It’s solid and robust. It is an excellent reference-work in the grimoir tradition with focus precisely on the personalities of spirits, rather than their strictly contextual histories.
As a storyteller myself I like this very much, just as I also appreciate greatly the research that went to into gathering spirit stories. Stratton-Kent is a meticulous historian with a penchant for the painful work of classification. In this aspect, his Pandemonium is nothing short of marvelous.
As to the stories that this book tells, by way of charting spirit hierarchies, from Lucifer to the Four Kings and a host of Goetic spirits, one can say that they are all stories of encounters. Told in a clever and witty way.
Any conjuration act is a story of an encounter. Pandemonium delivers concrete opportunities for such experiences, and it does a great job at creating exactly what it promises: A discordant concordance.
The work suggests that when we deal with the grimoirs, we deal invariably with what Stratton-Kent calls ‘infernal multiplication’ (52). Here, in reference of how names undergo transliterations that can change the story of a particular spirit.
The work is packed with charts, side-by-side hierarchies, spirit functions and embodiments, and visual representations. I commend the great job that went into the layout of this book, as it’s not easy to fit everything elegantly onto a page.
Some dictionaries choose to define the word Pandemonium by first referring to Milton’s Paradise Lost, a work of poetry and the imagination in which the infernal in envisioned very graphically and elaborately.
Although no reference is made here to Milton, as his is a work that falls into the category of literary grimoir, the poetic aspect that goes into the descriptions of the spirits in Stratton-Kent’s Pandemonium, as precisely dramatis personae, is not lost on this reader. For this alone, I recommend this book.
But I also recommend it for this other reason: Jake Stratton-Kent’s Pandemonium is a rare treasure. It actually makes you think that what makes the world go round is fear. Fear of the infernal and demonic forces.
Indeed, unless, you’re completely Zen — if such a state is possible — and unimpressed by the movement of the holy and unholy ghosts in you, you’re bound to be fascinated by the way grimoirists throughout the ages suggest you transact for your experiences of the occult, exchanging your fear for something else.
Don’t hesitate to get this book if you like stories of the human imagination, solid research and scholarship, and the promise of fantastic encounters if you dare to do the work of uttering the name.
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Originally published at www.patheos.com on January 11, 2017.