“The word ‘goes’ relates to terms describing the act of lamenting at funeral rites; the mournful howling considered as a magical voice. These magical tones can guide the deceased to the underworld, and raise the dead. This is the root of the long connection of goetia with necromancy, which as come to be termed black magic.”
- from the Introduction to Geosophia, by Jake Stratton-Kent
There was a time when laws were given through Divine inspiration, and those who spoke them were raised to the level of the gods they served. Perhaps the most familiar example of this in the Western culture is the reception of the tables of law given to Moses on Mount Sinai (or Horeb depending on the tradition), but this tradition exists in nearly every culture across the world. According to the scholar Peter Kingsley it was a common practice in the ancient world that such receptions were required to be heard in times of trouble. Whether it was disease, famine, or war, if someone came forward with a Divinely inspired revelation, irregardless of their social standing, that revelation was to be respected and given a fair hearing lest the society suffer further due to its neglect.
Such a practice has obvious problems for Imperial rule, or corporate oligarchy, and throughout history the role of the Prophet has never been without it’s attendant risks. When the ruling elite decides to ignore Divine decree those speaking with the voice of Divinity are quickly rounded up and sentenced to death, and the instruments and practices of cultivating Divine contact are fought with laws, taboos and mockery seeking to silence them. In the Western Tradition these practices have, since before the onset of the Roman Catholic Empire, faced this process of denigration. Starting with arguments against the folly of metaphysics by Greek and Roman rationalists, and continuing into laws against witchcraft and divination, these taboos have remained in place in one form or another for millennium.
While there are many downsides to the cultural confusion of our time, there are also benefits to the disintegration of boundaries and cultural unity. Jake Stratton-Kent’s study of the grimoire tradition presents one of the most cohesive examples of these benefits in it’s exploration of the ancient goetic practice and its roots in pre-Greco-Roman traditions and the Mystery cults of the ancient world. His latest work, Geosophia – The Argo of Magic, is a 628 page survey of the history, practice and continuation of the Goetic tradition. It forms the second part of his Encyclopedia Goetia, which began with the publication of The Encyclopedia Goetica Volume One: The True Grimoire, both available in multiple editions from Scarlet Imprint.
Stratton-Kent shares the drive to reinvigorate and actualize the Western tradition that Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech, the proprietors of Scarlet Imprint, express in a previous interview hosted on The Eyeless Owl. He has spent nearly four decades studying the grimoire tradition first hand, both as a practitioner and scholar, and his expertise shines throughout the pages of Geosophia. While the book’s depth as a scholarly work is undeniable it contains no dry academic pretensions, it presents a vivid and living tradition.
“…the goal should be the acquisition of mastery of symbolic languages, in order to compose rites and texts for oneself. Misguided imitation of our predecessors, and purely retrospective approaches fall short of an attainment that, while devoutly wished for by many, is lost if this is not well understood.”
- from Geosophia, Jake Stratton-Kent
Despite it’s notoriety, the goetic tradition has roots in practices that were once central to the health and cohesion of society. Students of Philosophy inundated with the drudgery of the current academic interpretation of ancient thinkers will be surprised to find the names of Pythagoras and Empedocles along side John Dee and Edward Kelly as practitioners of the Art.
The role of the goes in ancient society was to be the mediator between worlds, similar to the shamanic practices found in Siberia, South America and Eurasia. What has fallen into disrepute when labeled as necromancy was once the auspicious role of ‘guide of souls’ in past cultures.
Given the ability to contact, and speak, with the recent and ancestral dead the goes was responsible for maintaining the integrity of the society through mediating the connections of past, present and future. Moving further along the horizontal axis of existence they were also responsible for maintaining relationships with the elemental and natural spirits. On the vertical axis the goes was given the task of maintaining a relationship with the cthonic and celestial entities that came to be defined as demons or angels in the Christianized tradition of the classic grimoires.
“In short, what I advocate is forming a similar relationship to the spirits of our magical traditions to that of our counterparts in other cultures. This is quite simply the most substantial means of revitalizing western magic available; infinitely preferable to the despicable procedures of the Goetia of Solomon, which simply reflect the spirit-negative attitudes of an outdated theology.”
- from Geosophia, by Jake Stratton-Kent
While most of Geosophia covers the development of the Greco-Roman traditions and their influence on European grimoires, Stratton-Kent’s cross cultural conversations imbue the work with a deeper connective value. The living Western tradition is in a state of flux, the majority of initiatic Orders are hesitant to acknowledge or embrace direct contact with the roots of practice, or have relegated much of it to rote routine or psychologized archetypal therapies. As he points out this is not a viable option for those who truly want to connect with the goetic tradition. In order to rediscover what lies at the root Stratton-Kent utilizes, but does not co-opt, the experiences of those who still follow traditions similar in nature to goetia, such as the African Traditional Religions and magical traditions such as Palo, Candoble, Voudon, and Hoodoo.
This cross cultural communication mirrors similar developments in the ancient goetic tradition. Greek religion went through many transitions as it moved into the Classical period that lead to the state cults and Olympian pantheon that are the most familiar representations we hear about. Stratton-Kent details the emergence of the Mystery cults focusing on Dionysus, Orpheus and Attis that coalesced during the decline of the state religion. Through the influence of Thracian, Etruscan and Phrygian rites and Mysteries, these sects served to reinvigorate traditions predating the classic period.
Rene Guenon indicates that in folk traditions one can find active strains of past practices, and Stratton-Kent uses this to successfully uncover the active beliefs of goetic practice by comparing the textual evidence of standard western sources, such as Agrippa, Dee and the various Renaissance grimoires, with living traditions such as Hoodoo.
Although this may seem odd at first, Hoodoo classics such as the 6th and 7th Books of Moses are nothing less than goetic miscellanies. Through observing, conversing and understanding how contemporary traditions utilize these texts, Stratton-Kent opens the true nature of the grimoire work.
“Magic is not a no-risk vocation…Madness or other disasters may threaten; even destroy the unprepared magician who loses the golden thread. However, as a notorious magician once said, an initiatory ordeal that has no risk of failure is not an ordeal.”
- from Geosophia, by Jake Stratton-Kent
Drawing from these traditions brings goetia out of the standard taboos of diabolical practice, but it also brings to the forefront misunderstandings and racist fears plaguing African Traditional Religions in the West. While Western magic has had it’s teeth pulled by the psychologizing effects of Carl Jung, and the pacification of New Age corruptions, blood still runs hot in the veins that Stratton-Kent taps in finding the roots of goetia. It is in balancing this fact with an equally powerful wisdom tradition that Geosophia truly emerges as a profound work.
Through focusing on the deeper connotations of the traditions he explores, Stratton-Kent is able to bring out the gnostic elements inherent in the grimoires. Pointing to the initiatory nature of the texts and rituals, he successfully demonstrates that beyond the surface exists profound examples of techniques and meditations for fostering a fluid and unified consciousness.
Stratton-Kent provides a thorough study of the mytho-poetic elements of the goetic tradition which, as he states in the introduction to Geosophia, provides the basis for a true relationship with the spirits and entities encountered in the work. There is no sword waving coercion here, the focus in on an interpersonal dialogue with existence, and follows the more reverent practices found in grimoires such as the Sworn Book of Honorius, where we find goetic rituals attuned to Divine Union and participation rather than the demon baiting and uncritically malefic atmosphere that attends many of the later grimoires.
Another interesting exploration that moves throughout the work is the relationship of the goetic tradition to the ancient metal working sects. For those interested in the current resurgence of alchemical exploration Geosophia provides a valuable overview of the ritual, cultural and mythological settings of ancient metal working and gives strong hints towards the true nature of the Great Work.
Just as the Argo carried Jason and his companions on their quest to find the Golden Fleece, Geosophia – The Argo of Magic recovers the hidden tradition of goetia. This is a goetia that lives and breaths with the spirits it connects to.
Resources for further study: