This strikes me as an unusual quote in the context of grimoires. The Lemegeton is, like many of its contemporaries, full of careful strictures regarding the manufacture of ritual items and the proper way to present them to spirits in order to accomplish magical goals. Yet here is a prayer that may be modified to the temper of the magician. I want to poke at it a little, see what turns up.
What distinguishes this prayer from so many of the other magical operations? It’s directed to the guardian angel of the magician rather than a goetic spirit. While there is some implied hierarchy in the exemplary prayer both in terms of the angel’s home in heaven and its role as the magician’s teacher, those hierarchies are affectionate. In the place of command, we find ‘humbly desieres’ and ‘entreaties,’ and the magician is but one ‘submissive pupil.’
The message of that juxtaposition is clear enough. If you want to work with that spirit (singular) assigned to you, you can develop a certain degree of informality with them. If you want to work with spirits (plural) beyond that figure, though, you best get your P’s and Q’s straight. What interests me is the implication that the guardian angel, suited to the temper of their ward, can and should be entreated more warmly and intimately. It suggests that the mind of the worker and the mind of the angel are in harmony such that the magician can follow their own habits more fully in regard to the angel.
The grimoire tradition focus on those spirits that must be approached diplomatically and in essence provides the magician with the etiquette proper to this ambassadorial role. The strictures, while a little alien to us nowadays, would have been familiar to the magicians of their day. Seals and official forms of address underpinned the relationship between the elite of Europe. Isn’t that just a little odd when you think about it? These forms are actually no less of ‘the mind of the worker’ than the more intimate prayer to the guardian angel, they just relate to those parts of the worker’s mind that communicate through the aspects more firmly conditioned by their society.
Why do the spirits of the Lemegeton bend themselves into early modern conventions? To some extent, I am willing to entertain that some of those conventions developed from the interaction of spirits with magicians of court, but the entirety of them? I doubt it. We could also just write the trappings off to mumbo jumbo that helps put the magician in the right headspace to do magical work, but given how efficacious they are for modern magicians, too, I am a little dubious of that, too. It seems like, for whatever reason, the spirits of Lemegeton basically want to play along.
We can say it is because the magicians take on the mantle of God’s protection, but that just pushes the question back in the opposite direction. Why would God, eternal and beyond human history, express itself so directly through early modern European convention?
What else is going on in Hermetic magic? The magic makes a lot of effort to seal off the magician from the forces with which they are working, either directly with magical circles or indirectly through ascetic prohibitions. That implies the magicians were at least implicitly aware that the work presented the spirit with the opportunity to become more involved with the material world and they wanted to make sure that whatever part of the material world that included, it didn’t include the magician. Evoke the spirit, strengthen its ties to the world, but don’t get chummy with it. Hermetic magic doesn’t seem to consider what else the spirits might do with that intensified connection.
Magic might be more of a two-way street than is sometimes imagined. The rites may enable the spirit to undertake rites of its own. Even excluding that, it is worth paying attention to the sorts of things the spirits offer. They offer to do various tasks, but they also offer the magician knowledge. Knowledge is a funny thing–while it seems like so much information, once applied it can have deep and enduring effects in the world. Consider the anthropogenic changes that have been wrought on the earth by human knowledge.
I’m with folks like Gordon on this –it’s worth thinking about what the spirits are doing, too, not just figuring out what we can get them to do for us. (Amusingly, the post I’m linking to here was pointed out to me by my partner as I was in the middle of getting the first post of this blog up and running; I looked at it and totally went ‘nope, not now.’ It puts me in mind of Emerson on Friendship:
Then, though I prize my friends, I cannot afford to talk with them and study their visions, lest I lose my own. It would indeed give me a certain household joy to quit this lofty seeking, this spiritual astronomy, or search of stars, and come down to warm sympathies with you; but then I know well I shall mourn always the vanishing of my mighty gods.