On the Nature of Daemons - and Fake News in Magic
Initially I shared the below reflections back in 2013. The original post followed a series of blogposts from RO, Frater Barabas and von Faustus on the nature of demons. In my reflections I am sharing what I learned about how to best deal with 'magical authorities' and what I learned from my own interactions with daemonic entities.
Looking back after four years I find my points below validated by further experience. However, I had to add one additional call out, which previously escaped me. Together these learnings about the nature of daemons are a fair reflection of how spiritual beings have worked with, through and on me over the decades of my own magical practice. Maybe just as importantly though, these experiences have become the spade with which I dig into the earth of our magical tradition. Reading up on our ancestors' description of their magical experiences (or in many cases: philosophical speculations) turns into an act of magic itself - if it is done through the lens of our own personal experiences.
Reading then turns into Research: With every sentence we read from authorities such as Iamblichus, Philostratus or Michael Psellos we are asked to pause. To close the book. To summarise in our own words what we just heard them say. And to dig into the soil of our own experience: Is this true with regards to how we encountered daemons personally? Is it revealing us a different, a deeper, better understanding of how we have actually engaged with spirits already? Do we see contradictions? Or do we draw a blank? Do we just file it away under 'another hypothesis to test' - but watch ourselves not to accept anything as true that our own experience does not speak to.
These days we speak a lot about fake news. I wonder what is fake news in magic? In a world that only exists if entered through our own subjective lens? I don't have an absolute answer of course. But I have one that works for me: if I cannot validate it through my own experience, I don't accept it as a fact. Instead it becomes a working hypothesis at best.
I also learned to give myself good advise in moments like this. Words I have repeated over and over again to myself. Advise I need to hear sometimes several times a day. Especially when I am fragile, but want to be strong:
- Do not let other voices replace your own. Irrespective of how ancient, powerful and respected they seem to be. Have the courage to stand alone.
- Be careful with your desire to hold on to things as 'facts'. Instead become comfortable with the discomfort of not-knowing.
- Be humble with what you think you see 'for real'. It might just be another mirror that breaks once the storm sets in.
- When in disagreement with others, explore your own vulnerability instead of fortifying your defense. Inbetween your two opinions, a treasure might wait to be discovered.
So below is the original post on The Nature of Daemons. The first part shares some further reflections on the risks of not valuing our own personal (magical) experience sufficiently, when confronted with the opinions of authorities. Four years later - I found it interesting to read this as a reflection on our current debate about 'Fake News'... The second part lays out my own personal insights about the nature of daemons. It contains the 3 working principles shared before, plus a 4th one I only validated more recently.
Note: In this post I am using the term 'daemon' as a general placeholder for all kinds of spiritual entities - may these be chthonic, celestial, sub- or supra-lunar. This exploration is not about the various kinds of entities, but how all of them work with / through / on us as human beings in similar ways.
On Valuing Tradition over Experience
All of the magicians referenced above hold informed opinions on the subject of the nature of daemons. 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.
Personal Insights on the Nature of Daemons
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 daemon or demon. I did speak e.g. 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.
4) On Daemonic Voices:
Point number 3) above talks to our contact with spiritual beings in their own realm, i.e. in visionary or ritual contact. Obviously there is a flip-side to this: which is all the time we spend in our everyday reality without consciously trying to attempt to create spirit contact.
Here I find my own experience fully aligned with what we learn from many ancient authors: Once you have established strong contact to a spiritual being, many of these communication channels remain open regardless of your own cognitive state. Even once we have left the state of ritual gnosis, beings still reach out to us in specific moments in time and try to download information to us.
The way I experience this in my own body is the following: My mind encounters a thought that seems to come from 'elsewhere'. A sudden insight. A new object with a different smell, taste and touch is placed into my mind.
These moments tend to be moments of multisensory integration: If my numb day-mind allows me to perceive it, I can actually sense a different quality in my body, especially down my central spine. The energy in my body feels as if it was lifted up towards the top of my skull. The thought comes down into me, like rain falling down. It's a light touch. I need to quiet myself to hear it. Whenever it works, I get full sentences. Sometimes I hear a voice that sounds like mine talking to me for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. The only way to differentiate these messages from my own thinking is by their very nature: they arrive fully formed in my mind, they are often disconnected or even contradicting to my own previous thinking, and they always trigger strong positive emotions. A mixture of happiness and being cared for - as if suddenly you realised an old friend you had almost forgotten about had stood all the time in a blind spot right behind your shoulder. I feel community.