I opened my messages this morning to find an e-mail from my good friend Phil. He sent me a link to the introduction of Geosophia, a new Scarlet Imprint book by Jake Stratton Kent. The book traces the origins of Western magic to early Greek origins, with African and Indian influences. After reading through the introduction, it is clear to me that this is an important read for those interested in the subject.
Kent talks about the primeval Greek gods and their rites, which are sterilized in classical literary accounts of Greek mythology. Most importantly, he talks about the term goetia. Goetia is associated with the evocation of demons, and in particular, the Lemegeton, or the first book of the Key of Solomon. What I did not know about the term goetia is that it originates in the Greek term goes, which refers to a person, not a particular operation or method. Goetia is often translated as "howling", though it more accurately means "lamenting". The goes is akin to the keening woman or wailing woman that used to go to funerals. It refers to funerary rites that involved wailing and weeping. The "demonic" attributes now given to the term come from the old business of "the god of the old religion is the devil of the new". Additionally, the goetic rites were associated with the lower classes (and with Dionysus, traditionally an "outsider" deity), and therefore were distasteful to the upper, educated classes.
There is much to take in here with regard to the history of Western magic. However, for me, I was struck by the description of the act of keening itself. The reason that such howling lamentations were part of the service was to allow the vibrations of those sounds to guide the dead to the underworld. Similarly, those sounds could be used to bring the dead back temporarily for some purpose, hence its association with necromancy (divination by consulting the dead, quite common at that time). You could bring the dead back for other reasons too, and this was the real concern that the ancients had with these rituals, and their eventual association with black magic (one of the reasons, anyway). But then, the notion of goetia goes back to the one performing the operation. It's not necessarily evil in itself--it depends on the operator.
The idea of the vibration of the keening sounds having an impact strikes me as a very Indic idea, as it is in perfect accord with the use of mantras in meditation. Sound is relevant to existence. The particles that make up matter--that make up our physical selves--vibrate at a certain frequency. In the William Burroughs interview with Jimmy Page, Burroughs mentions infra-sound and its use as a military weapon. You can kill someone with sound pitched lower that 16 Hertz, as well as break windows and other objects. When one is in deep meditation, one is aware of a sound and vibration that hums beneath everything else, and when you attune yourself to that vibration, you are in tune with the universe (in theory, and likely in practice, too). The mantra is given to you by a master who is attuning your sound to your own harmonious pitch, if you will.
And thus we come to the notion of sacred or magic words. You can't really separate magic from religion in this sense, because both are seeking to bring about a change in something through means more subtle than direct action. They act upon that which is not obvious (therefore hidden, and therefore termed "occult", which means hidden). The transubstantiation of the Eucharist in a Mass--with its attendant words and vibrations--is not different in this sense from Enochian chanting or reciting mantras of purification.
Beyond the notion of sound, Goetia is an ancient address of something we've long sought to ignore--the "darker" side of our nature and death. Modern psychology will tell you that whatever "good" qualities or attributes you perceive in yourself, the opposite of those qualities also exists within you. When we look at serial killers or other monstrous sorts, we are horrified, and act as though the person were possessed by some outside devil or demon. However, it is an indication of the potential of our minds. We have the potential to do great things that benefit humankind, and we also have the gruesome potential of destruction. If we have one, we have the other. If one engages in Jungian therapy, one inevitably confronts their "shadow"--the repressed side of ourselves that we try to pretend isn't there. Looking away from the shadow is a problem, and I think it's the real meaning of C.S. Lewis's statement (paraphrased), "the devil would like you to believe he doesn't exist".
If one looks at the attributes of ancient underworld demons, they are never totally evil. They are often monstrous and horrific, but their function is often one of punishment. If one breaks an oath, or kills a parent, there are specific underworld deities that will torment you (according to the ancient Greek tradition, as well as others). This sounds tremendously like the notion of "conscience". If you feel no guilt or no suffering for your bad actions--if you have no demons to punish you--then you are a sociopath. Of course, sociopaths do have demons; they are just so effectively repressed that they have taken over. They no longer serve the function of discrimination.
Western Biblical mythology goes something like this: Man was perfect (meaning all good and innocent). Then he ate from the tree of knowledge, and became corrupt (sinful--not innocent). The soul's journey, therefore, is about attaining "perfection"--trying to reach the state we were in prior to the Fall. In the monotheistic doctrines, this means obedience to God (and in the case of Christians, accepting Jesus as the link back to perfection). Those who are highly imperfect are said to be influenced by the Devil. You notice that this battle goes on outside the person--things attack from the outside, not from the inside. Ironically, there is a dualism that is created, even though dualism is shunned by monotheistic religions. You are still waging the Zoroastrian battle of good versus evil.
The point of recognizing the notion of goetia and its role in our lives is to integrate our dark sides, not try to repress or destroy them. They have a function. To think of them as "external" is a mistake--you are not really separate from the "external". That doesn't mean one should engage in goetic ritual--I wouldn't advise such a thing unless someone was working with someone experienced, and assuming that's the path you want to take to negotiate those darker parts of the collective soul. Because it is repressed in most of us, it is unconscious--and you are essentially swimming in the dark if you take it on without preparation. But you can no more avoid your own "darker" traits than you can have a life where everything goes your way. It's part of the journey of self-discovery, and awareness is the key to everything.