You might have read the recent articles of RO, Frater Barabas or von Faustus discussing the nature of demons. I learned some interesting points following their discussion. Yet, most of what I learned was less about the nature of daemons and more about how we are still stuck in repeating history rather than exploring reality...
Let me share what I mean with this - and how it relates to my own experiences with the daemonic.
On Valuing Tradition over Experience
All of the magicians referenced above hold informed opinions on the subject. They quote authoritative sources - some of them hundreds of years old - and relate them to each other to explore how our ancestors thought about the nature of daemons. In this process I learned a lot as a reader, especially about the various hypothesis on the origin of the four cardinal kings, often labelled as Oriens, Paymon, Egyn and Amaymon.
Inquiring into the sources of our tradition to answer this question is a perfectly valid approach. Prime examples of such research can be found in the wonderful Magic in History Series. Yet, despite all passion and interest for the opinions of our ancestors on the subject we have to realize one thing: Taking such a traditional approach on a subject such as the nature of demons will tell us a lot about how our ancestors tried to make sense of the conundrum of the invisible beings that surround yes - yet potentially very little about their actual reality.
Just consider what happened if we took the same approach on the material realm: Imagine no one of us had travelled to a certain place on earth for centuries, say the Greek islands in the Mediterranean. Now a question comes up about the nature of the inhabitants of these islands, how they relate to us as e.g. North Americans, how they live and how we could interact with them. So we go back and study the ancient sources of the Greek, we read Homer and the Ilias and many other accessible source material.
Once we are finished we will have learned a lot about the Ancient Greeks. Some of the aspects we found might still hold true today - but a lot of it simply won’t. Why? Because time doesn’t stand still and centuries have passed since these observations have been made - that is if they were observations in the first place and not polemic attempts to impress certain opinions into the books of history. Historians tell us: When exploring the maps and records of our ancestors we might learn more about the subjective reality they believed to live in than the objective reality they were exposed to. Even in our best attempts - descriptions of reality always remain clouded by the biases and filters of the times we live in.
Now, of course you can argue against this. The reality of the demonic realm might be much more comparable to the realms of nature, of plants, rocks and stones than the one of humans. In this case change would occur at much slower intervals. Thus observations of our not so distant ancestors on e.g. specific qualities of certain plants and their interaction with other species might be hugely informative today still. I guess that's a fair point? In this case, however, I wonder why we don't share first what we personally found out about the objects of our curiosity personally - before delving into ancient sources?
In all the blog posts mentioned above I saw a strange shyness, a bias I can’t explain that seems to hold us back to share our actual first hand experiences before we look at the records in our occult lore. The opinions and observations of our ancestors seem to be used like a protective shield - but against what are we trying to shield ourselves? The ridicule of other authors? The actual insights that our own experiences on the subject seem incredibly subjective, fleeting and hard to put into categories? Well, should the latter be true than why do we assume this would have been any different for magicians living 200 or 500 years ago?
If we truly want to learn about the nature of demons - and what they do whenever they are not coerced into a magical circle - we first and foremost have to explore this question through experience. Without real-life experience - and the willingness to share it - at best we become archivists of our lore, at worst we turn into dogmatists.
Some Personal Observations on the Nature of Spirits
Having said the above, let me make a small contribution to breaking through this habit. Here is what I personally learned from experience about the nature of spiritual beings. It might be hugely at odds with authoritative source texts, Apollonius, Agrippa or even - gods forbid - the Hermetica:
1) On Daemonic Hierarchies:
I am happy to admit: So far I have never encountered a spiritual being that told me it belonged to a certain rank, hierarchy or order of beings. I also never encountered a being that spoke of itself as a demon. I did speak to the Sandalphon, the Barakiel, the demons of the planets and some of the 360 genii of the earthebelt zone - as well as many inner contacts that best remain anonymous. They all had consciousness of themselves as individual beings - or in some cases hive-beings - they also all were conscious of their particular functions as perceived by humans and some of them of the names they had been given by us. Many of them also seemed to have group consciousness, e.g. the planetary spirits of the Arbatel, working in harmony with each other. Yet, neither of them ever spoke of themselves as ‘angels’, ‘demons’ or part of any other general terminology I found in our ancestor’s books on ritual magic. To be honest - this maybe just reflects on my lack of questioning skills as I never considered it important?
2) On 'Daemonic Work' :
On the question what these beings do when they do not interact with us, I gained a relatively clear view over the years. Again, I might be completely wrong. Should you disagree with me, remember, we both might actually be... Here is what I observed:
The concept of ‘work’ doesn’t exist for spiritual beings, especially not in the supra-lunar spheres further away from consciousness as we know it. Instead spiritual beings function much more like plants or other organic substances: They radiate consciousness. This is how they interact and create impact. They effect their environment by purely being present, by being nothing but themselves in the place they are currently in. Of course spiritual forces take certain directions, culminate in waves and tides, pass through the gate of the Moon, create damage or birth, etc. Yet, all this happens in a state of presence and being - not with a certain goal in mind. A bush in your garden, a tree in a park will never sigh and say: ‘Oh boy, this was really hard work today!’.
In fact anybody who saw the wonderful BBC series ‘Meet the Natives‘ will remember the incredulity with which the so-called natives looked at our Western lives. I remember a scene when they were sitting in a hotel room at night, completely gobsmacked by our constant rush and pace of life. They just couldn’t get their heads around the fact we were ‘working‘ eight or more hours everyday. For them work was about a period of one or two hours each day maximum. The rest was reserved for being with the tribe. - The mediating of power, the channeling of influences or forces in most cases does not at all take physical or mental work. Instead it takes moments of true presence, of letting go and letting one’s own nature come through. (Oh, and let's not be confused - this type of presence might still exhaust us more than a twelve hour work day as humans after all.)
3) On Daemonic Contact:
Finally, the major way all of these beings interacted with me was through physical contact. That is not to say that we did not speak with each other, exchanged thoughts and allowed each other mentally to learn from each other. However, after this phase of verbal politeness and getting to know the actual spirit contact was always very physical.
In many cases we skipped the verbal foreplay and got down to business right away: I was burned to ashes and rebuilt, I got sparks, stones and gems put inside my body, I drank fluids passed on by spirits and my body was smudged with oils, honey, feathers and many other substances I never truly understood. From my personal experience this is how true spirit contact works - you mingle your bodies, the vessels that carry the spirits and sparks. You enter communion, transgress boundaries and withdraw into your own center again.
This is how seeds of being and change are passed on. Which is why any change can only be initiated by touch or sensual contact. The so called spiritual realms are much more physical to my knowledge than we might think.
Now, wether the aftermath of this physical exchange is joyful or painful or both on a physical level is of no matter. It is in the very moment before we enter into spirit communion that we have to accept the consequences of our deeds. Once the seed is passed on we hold responsibility for the full plant to come to life. That we don’t know how this plant will look like once fully grown and how it might change the garden we call ourselves, is the very difference between an occult archivist and a magical practitioner: The former tries to minimise the risks of real life experience, while the latter constantly walks the line of trust and outright stupidity.