A lot has been published about magical grimoires in recent years. Since the days of their inception general familiarity with these books, their practices as well as the ranks and titles of their spirits might have never been broader than today. In fact, since the dawn of the internet some of them have found their way into Western pop culture and turned into samples of the huge exhibition hall we call our collective memory.
If judged from the standpoint of the magical practitioner such tendency is both welcome and troublesome. It is welcome as for the first time (1) in theory every magical practitioner has the opportunity to engage with spirits whose contact had been limited to adepts for centuries, (2) whole communities of practitioners have emerged that can share valuable perspective, help and advise and (3) such public interest offered the opportunity to gifted book publishers such as Fulgur or Scarlet Imprint to create editions of this genre according to standards it had never seen before.
And then this trend of course is troublesome for very similar reasons: A proverb amongst occultists says the mysteries know how to protect themselves. When it comes to the spirits of the true grimoires, as far as my knowledge and experience is concerned, the need for protection has always been on the side of the practitioner. In the past such protection was applied by magical teachers who - in the rare cases where they actually possessed either or both - passed on certain books and techniques to their students only when the appropriate fundament of skills and capacities had been built. Today these books are thrown at us on every wikipedia search and the required foundational skills are rarely ever even attempted to be built.
However, there is another, much more rarely talked about aspect that is troublesome. Some of the magical grimoires - and the Arbatel certainly is one of them - actually can be utilised as initiatory systems and might have even been conceived as such. The most prominent example where elements of a grimoire a presented in such light certainly is the now famous Book of Abramelin. Here the encounter of certain spirits arranged according to a certain sequence - or shall we say: choreography of experience - turns into a highly sophisticated and powerful system of self-initiation. It seems the tradition to bring to life such initiatory aspect of these arcane books has almost been extinguished completely. Instead it has been replaced by a surface - maintained both online and in print - that makes these books seem like another shortcut towards instant gratification. Something that of course blends well with the spirit of our time. And maybe is just another way of the spirits to shield themselves from nagging and unwelcome guests?
The following pages have been written to give proof that this last aspect of the grimoires is still actively practiced today - and presents a path accessible to anyone who is not afraid to put the required work and risks in. When a friend an I decided to perform the full ritual cycle of the Arbatel in 2009 both of us had ten years of practical magical training and theoretical education behind us. The reason why I state this, is to emphasise how strong your foundations should be when you begin to work face to face with spirits that represent the living soul of planets within our solar system. While we had been trained as lone practitioners for more than a decade under supervision of an excellent and highly capable teacher, of course even our fundaments proved to have many cracks and missing stones. In magic we are our own safety nets. What that means should be of no insignificant meaning to anyone of us: Once we decide to enter into communion with a certain spirit, there is no one who carries responsibility for its consequences but us. While many people are trigger-happy these days and open to take such risk, unfortunately there is very little understanding of how significant these consequences can be: on our mental wellbeing, on our physical health, on the land we live in and even on the loved ones who form members of our spiritual body...
As I am writing this in April 2014 I can look back on six of the seven Arbatel rituals completed. I can look back on a wealth of direct magical experience as well as prices I have paid for these encounters that I would not have assumed to be possible in 2009. The one question that we encountered over and over again on this path was the possibly most important question in the occult arts. It is: Why practice magic at all? -- Personally I am convinced anybody aiming to fulfil worldly goals through spiritual arts is barking up the wrong tree. Life can be a scary place; and I have seen many people withdraw into the realms of magic for problems that they were simply scared through hard work and human interactions. For my friend and I from the beginning our answer to this question was this: We believed that the Arbatel presents a highly practical system that allows the practitioner to ascend on the Hermetic ladder - through each planet's phase - all the way from Malkuth to Binah. Testing this assumption was the goal of our work and we were willing to pay high prices for it.
Looking back - with one more ritual remaining for completion - neither of us any longer are sure that indeed this way of ascend is either the most balanced nor scalable one. Our human constitution simply is not meant to be exposed to the powers and consciousness one encounters on this path. While each ritual certainly was proof to us that such ascent is possible, we were confronted again and again with the most essential question: Is it necessary?
Life is asking a lot of questions from each of us - and it is putting a lot of initiatory experiences right in front of us. It actually might well be that life holds its own way of helping us to ascend on this magical ladder? We might have simply looked in the wrong direction - or barked up the wrong tree ourselves? The problem might not be to find a secret path of ascent - but begin to understand what life truly is asking from each of us already. Aiming to understand the existing questions in our lives could result in much more growth and balance than shaking 'the tree' to throw more at us - while our ears remain deaf.
It is with such openness - and a lot of questions on my mind - that I am sharing the following six ritual accounts with you. Each of them is flawed by my own shortcomings as a magical practitioner and person still mostly deaf to spirits and life. Yet each of them is flawless as an expression of their time as well as a desire to better understand the very spirits that form our lives.
May the serpent bite its tail.