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 rarely ever 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 passed on certain books and techniques to their students 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 self-initiatory systems and might have even been conceived as such. Among the most prominent examples today 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 and art to bring to life such initiatory aspects of the grimoires has almost been lost entirely. Instead it has been replaced by a surface - maintained both online and in print - that makes these books seem like another shortcut towards instant gratification.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 the self-initiatory practice of the grimoires is still alive today - and in fact presents a path accessible to anyone who is not afraid to put in the required work and accept the related risks.
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 only reason for stating this is to emphasise how strong one's foundations should be before one begins 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, like in many performing arts, the practitioner themselves is the only safety net. The implications of this fact obviously are significant: 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 a price 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 too lazy or too scared to resolve through hard work and direct human interactions. From when we set out with this work until today, the answer to this question has been rather straight forward for my friend and I: 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 the related price 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 to 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 one of them is flawed by my own shortcomings as a magical practitioner 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.