When most of the books you read are for research, it is always a pleasure to read a good book which increases your knowledge of an associated subject which you have not had time to study. Chris Bilardi’s The Red Church is an excellent example of this. Subtitled “The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei”, this book is a fascinating study of Pow Wow, the American Christian folk magic which grew from German roots.
The first part of the book provides a detailed analysis of the different European (predominantly German) religious movements which fed into the Braucherei, setting the scene and providing the provenance for the material. The historical analysis is a vital part of providing the context for magical systems, so it was a pleasure to see such a through treatise which covered all the ground whilst holding the reader’s interest.
As a tradition which draws on the grimoires and Qabalah as well as its Biblical core, the practices are heavily religious, and Bilardi is not afraid to emphasise the importance of being a good member of the local Christian community, something which was key to magical practitioners of the grimoires, cunning-folk and other traditions as well. It is good to see the debt that the Western Esoteric Traditions owe to Christianity as one of the driving forces of modern magic being acknowledged. It has become unfortunately trendy in some areas to ‘bash’ Christianity as being anti-pagan, whilst reflecting those same prejudices, and also ignoring the fact that there is an inherent magic in the Bible and Christian practice which continues to be one of the most powerful magical currents in the world.
However this book is not purely about history and philosophy, it is also packed with numerous examples of the charms and practices of Braucherei, drawn from the old texts like The Long Lost Friend and also from practitioners, which show very effectively how quickly practices can evolve and change through personal use and experience. (As an aside, Dan Harms is working on a definitive volume on The Long Lost Friend which should be a welcome addition to this field).
All in all this is an excellent volume which should be of interest to a wide range of people, from magicians to folklorists, healers to historians, psychologists to pagans. Chris Bilardi is to be congratulated on producing such a fine work.
I had some very interesting discussions around the fire over the weekend. With the friends who were visiting this was to be expected, but it is always interesting to see what particular flavour results from the synergy of people conversing. One topic of conversation was the Goetic spirits and the need for control of such beings.
Following a question about why can’t you just ask them to do things from someone with no experience of grimoires, the consensus between all of the practitioners of grimoire magic present (and there were several) was that this was really NOT a good idea! This type of magic works within a particular framework, and in that framework the sequence of conjurations and practices sets the parameters for safe and effective dealings with beings which are completely alien to humanity, inasmuch as they do not have our morality and have no real reason to be particularly friendly.
However, as I discussed in my essay The Fallen Angels and the Goetia in the anthology Both Sides of Heaven, there is another viewpoint to consider. This is that many of the demons in this grimoire are described as fallen angels who hope to return to heaven after a period of service. In this sense they can be seen as performing “angelic community service” as an act of humility and service to show they deserve to be restored to the positions they lost through their earlier misdeeds. So in this context it is beneficial to these fallen angels to help the conjuring magician as it will also help them!
Another part of the discussion focused on the idea that demons (as distinct from fallen angels) are by their nature chaotic, and the strict framework of conjurations and practices helps create a lens to direct that chaotic energy through, without any harm to the magician or the environment.
A similar purpose is achieved through using a controlling angel when working with a demon, a theme which I discussed at length with Stephen Skinner in our work The Goetia of Dr Rudd. At the end of the day, it is not a matter of being nice, it is a matter of being effective within the parameters of your work, and then you can be courteous!
During my recent radio interview with Karagan on Treasure Spirits, a very relevant theological point came up, which is known to students of the grimoires, but may not be so widely publicised in the general occult community.
The point was about the fallen angel Lucifer. The perspective sometimes found in the grimoires is that Lucifer is too mighty to be conjured to manifestation unless he wishes to be, and that his role is that allotted to him by God.
From this viewpoint Lucifer then becomes seen not even as a “necessary evil”, but rather an ordained test and challenge. Lucifer is not in this context the devil, he is one of the great powers performing the work of God.
Thus in The Book of Treasure Spirits, the Invocation of Lucifer Beelzebub and Sathan begins:
“O all you Spirits of great power Lucifer Beelzebub Sathan unto whom by orders & offices, as messengers of wrath, & ministers of divine justice, the execution of God’s judgements are committed …”
Heka, as well as being the name of magic, was also the name of the god of magic. To clear this up I thought I would include the following piece, which is an excerpt from my book Heka: The Practices of Ancient Egyptian Ritual and Magic:
The word heka can mean several things, each contributing to our understanding of the complexities of ancient Egyptian magic. The function of heka is described in the Instruction for Merikara, the Middle Kingdom teaching of the Pharaoh Amenemhet I (c. 2000 BCE):
“He [Re] gave them [mankind] the heka as a weapon in order to ward off the effect of dangerous events.”
Heka was seen as a gift from the sun god Re to mankind (his offspring), a manifestation of his creative energy as an embodiment of his Ba (his soul). It empowered man to create using words and actions, mirroring the sun god’s creation of the universe. Heka can be seen as the creative force or life-giving energy connecting the objects, links and symbols of life with the universe, like a subtle tapestry of energy, which the magician must learn to read if s/he is to effectively work magic.
Heka is also the inherent magical energy (mana or personal power) found within living beings. Different creatures were perceived as possessing different amounts of heka. The gods had the most heka. The pharaoh (as a channel for the divine energy) also had a lot of heka, as did people who were considered unusual, such as dwarfs and people with birth defects. Red hair was considered a sign of having much heka, due to the magical associations with that colour. And of course the other class of being with a lot of heka was the dead, hence the use of spells calling on the dead to assist with performing rites.
As well as being the term for magic, Heka was a god, indeed he was the god of magic. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say he was magic, being the divine personification of magic. He is sometimes shown in images as appearing among the crew of the solar barque. He was depicted as a bearded man wearing a lion nemes headdress.
Another definition of heka is given in funerary spell 261 of the Coffin Texts, from a Middle Kingdom sarcophagus. The spell is entitled “To become the god Heka”, and reads:
“I am he whom the Lord of all made before duality had yet come into being … the son of him who gave birth to the universe … I am the protection of that which the Lord of all has ordained … I am he who gave life to the Ennead of the gods … come to take my position that I may receive my dignity. Because to me belonged the universe before you gods had come into being. You have come afterwards because I am Heka.”
The hieroglyph used from 1000 BCE to write his name was interchangeable with the concepts of god and power. Visually the hieroglyph depicted the hindquarters of a lion, and may well be linked with his attribution as one of the sons of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet. In this form he was shown as a young child with a solar disk on his head.
So no, Heka and Hekate are not etymologically related. The only real connection is that they are both associated with magic in their own ways.
I am currently enjoying reading Chris Bilardi’s excellent The Red Church, and was not surprised to see that Psalms are used as part of the art of the Pennsylvania German Braucherei (commonly called Pow Wow). Having recently worked with Paul Harry Barron on The Book of Gold, I could not but help be struck by how common the magical use of the Psalms actually is.
Not only were the Psalms commonly used in grimoires like The Key of Solomon and the Goetia, but also in Jewish folk magic, Judaism, Christianity (from its early origins onwards), Hellenic magic, the magic of Cunning-folk, Hoodoo. This makes the Psalms a magical nexus which crosses between religions and magical systems in a way rarely seen.
The diversity of uses of the Psalms is also staggering, from divination to healing, protection to death spells, winning honours to conjuring spirits, the list of uses is extensive. Commonly the uses are simple and do not require complex ingredients or preparation (with the exception of some of the grimoire uses).
Not only do the Psalms cross systems, but they also retain their inherent efficacy in different languages. Having used and/or seen them used in Latin, Hebrew, Greek and English, each language has its own cadence, power and beauty in the words, demonstrating the inherent magic of the words (I am sure the same is also true of other languages like French, the original language of Le Livre d’Or – The Book of Gold).
So next time you think of magical practices, spare a thought for the Psalms, and remember that all religions have magic in them, whether it is called that or not, and whether it is discrete and hidden or public and clearly visible!
Sometimes when you are reading through material something grabs your attention and makes you think. For me, a good example of this occurred when I was putting together the material for A Collection of Magical Secrets. The piece was a charm to make a thief give back a stolen item. The instigators of this are ants, as a named wax figure of the suspect (you need to have some idea of who committed the theft) is placed in an anthill. Here the principles of sympathetic magic come into action, as the suspect is troubled by the feeling of ants crawling over their skin until they return the stolen item. As with many such charms from the eighteenth century, it does require a blessed item (wax), suggesting that the person using the charm needed to speak nicely to their local priest! Here is the charm from A Collection of Magical Secrets:
In Order To Make A Thief
Give Back The Stolen Item
You need to take some blessed wax and with it, fashion a figurine or a statue of the person suspected of the theft. And write the name of this person on its forehead and then place this figurine into an anthill, while saying these words:
“In the name of Jesus Christ, thou art just, Oh Lord and thy judgment is just. Bestow thy virtue on this my ritual and be blessed, praised and glorified throughout all the Ages. So Mote It Be.”
As soon as you have done this, it is assured, that the thief will never have any rest nor repose and will be forced to return the item he has taken without fail.