I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe; by the Which I mean, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.
H. P. Lovecraft, from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
These cautionary sentences from the fevered, xenophobic brain of Howard Phillips Lovecraft are likely to ring a bell with any student, practitioner, or fan of the occult. It’s pretty much old hat, at this point. “Call up not what ye cannot put down,” aka “Don’t mess with spirits that are more powerful than you,” which is, of course, most of them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the wide-eyed warnings against demonology, where even seasoned occultists with absolutely zero Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian affiliation will look at you like a baby killer if you even mention an interest in the Legiones Infernales — demons.
How are we to know what something is or does, if we’re not even allowed to look at, talk about, or investigate a topic? Are we certain that the weird, triple-headed, spider-legged King Bael, with his guttural voice, is the same as Prince Vassago, who is said to have a “good temperament” and helps people find hidden and lost things?
Sounds a far cry removed from the obscenity and pea-soup vomiting Pazuzu from The Exorcist.
Sounds like a conspiracy may be at work or, at beast, some distorted thinking.
Before we begin our investigations of the 72 goetic spirits throughout art and literature, let us take a moment and consider…
What is a demon?
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
This passage, from the wonderfully blasted Book of Revelations, illustrates what most of us think of, when we think of demons — the leather-winged, horned and hooved denizens of Tartarus.
But is that all there is to it?
As with any thousands of years old topic, especially where Christianity is concerned, there’s a lot more to it that is unearthed once you start digging. In the western world, demons are a result of the war in Heaven, where Lucifer and his rebel angels stood up against Yahweh, getting thrown into Gehenna for their insurrection.
This definition does not take into account other types of spirits, such as ghosts, chthonic entities, or other Pagan deities. This oversimplification can be seen in the Roman Daemon, who divided the spirits into two camps — Kakodaemon, or malevolent spirits, and Agathodaemon, or “noble spirit.” To the ancient Romans, daemon were more akin to guardian angels or djinn.
The risks of oversimplifying daemonic currents becomes clear when examining the other root spelling — daimon. Socrates was said to possess a daimon: “The favour of the gods,” said Socrates, “has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood. It is a voice which, when it makes itself heard, deters me from what I am about to do and never urges me on.”
In this context, “daimon” is the voice of wisdom and intuition, perhaps linked with the Gnostic goddess Sophia. We all could use a little more wisdom and guidance in our lives, so it’s hard to imagine the entire current as being “bad” or “negative.”
Dangers of oversimplification
Our conceptions of the demonic and the infernal are almost entirely rooted in the black and white Manichean thinking of Judeo-Christianity, where it’s Yahweh or the highway. And while there is much beauty and many mysteries in the Bible, one can’t help but wonder how often it’s been tinkered with, and by whom, and towards what goal?
Wondering about it too much is probably fruitless, leading to endless paranoid speculations but, regardless, if we think of spirits as either real or symbolic representations of psychic constructs, just writing them off and shunting them to the shadows to grow more mighty and terrible is probably not the best idea.1
Like a lot of people reading this, I was raised Christian, although not in any browbeaten or terrorizing way. They never told me to hate anybody, including myself. They were also, however, very unclear about what was “good” or “bad” and would kind of shruggingly default to the “Yahweh or the highway” line of thinking when faced with difficult questions. This led my younger self to some very conflicted ideas towards physicality and, as an extension, the world of physical creation.
Although it may not have been intentional or even conscious, early Christianity patterned itself after Zoroastrianism, the earliest religion with a concept of Hell. To the Zoroastrians, Earth was quite literally Hell, and thus the creator, known as the Demiurge, was actually the Devil.
Here’s where I reach my breaking point.
Although we are occultists and spiritualists, and thus interested in all things unseen, the reports are still out as to if and or when or where there is an afterlife, let alone what it’s like.2 That being said, with the evidence currently at our disposal: this life is all we get. Furthermore, the idea that all life is suffering and hardship is, quite simply, preposterous! Have you seen the Grand Canyon? A sequoia tree? A praying mantis? A mother with their newborn? The idea that this is all pain and suffering and, thus, evil, is ridiculous and has probably caused more suffering than just about any other idea, apart from maybe “that which is other than me is bad.”
This rampant — again, literally — demonizing of all things fleshly causes severe mental distortions, harmful to mind, body, and spirit. Keeping demons at bay may, in fact, be disconnecting ourselves from our own guardian spirits, our guiding light and instinct. While early Christians may have had reason to fear the unknown and the natural world, as well as possibly having some vested interests in keeping the populace dependent on a priest caste, the time has come to make up our own minds.
As occultists, it is our job to look as closely as possible, while remaining objective, practicing The Equinox’s adage: “The methods of science / The aims of religion.”
Image credit: xJorgiimx