The Week in Review – 2/26/12

5 March 2012

Let’s see, what did I do last week? Mostly, I prepped for class. That’s not particularly exciting. It basically means I read two books on philosophy and took notes. I think I have about 50 pages of typed notes. I have to keep my students occupied for seven weeks, after all.

I also finished the Demiurge chapter of Living Theurgy. At almost 6k words, it’s the longest so far. That’s actually pretty exciting, though, because it means the Theologia section of the book is about 3/5s finished. The book is also at over 20k words and the next chapter is almost at 6k words, too. That may mean a very thick book indeed, at least if the Philosophia and Theourgia sections follow suit.

I’ve edited everything I have for the next issue of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition. We should be set for the equinox, though I still need to write (or con . . . vince someone to write) the editorial and come up with cover art.

Finally, besides a handful of migraines, which suck if you’ve never had one, I managed to throw my back out Saturday night.

Did you do anything interesting last week?

The Week in Review – 2/19/12

28 February 2012

Tuesday is better than Wednesday for a week in review, right? Anywho, last week was taken up by more prep-work for the class I begin teaching in two and a half weeks. I talked with my department chair. Which was good. I have a lot more leeway in how to set up the class than I had thought. So I’ve re-written bits of the syllabus and course units and will re-write all the quizzes. I also dropped a book that drove me crazy by combining history, myth, allegory, and speculation and then claiming “all of this really happened.” I also took some 40 pages of notes from the two books assigned for class reading.

Beyond the realm of pure academia, I started, and finished, a little painting project: two engolpions of the Neoplatonic noeric Demiurgos, variously identified with Helios, Christ, IAO, YHVH, etc., etc., etc., for a nascent, ecumenical, Neoplatonic ekklesia. The whole painting process can be found here.

I am hoping to have all my note taking done this week so I can go back to writing Living Theurgy. As always, you can follow the bouncing ball of my writing projects at my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreySKupperman. I am also considering starting a FB page for my painting. What do you think? Some of that is for sale, such as the Christian Rosenkreutz icon, and I also take commissions. While my style is generally that of an Orthodox writer, I do not limit myself to Christian figures. I am as happy to do an Odin or Thoth icon as I am to do one of Dionysius the Areopagite.

Anyway, how was your week?

The Week in Review – 2-12-12

22 February 2012

Yes, I know, it’s Wednesday. So let’s just hael Woden and move forward, okay?

Last week was supposed to be a writing week. I think I got about 2,000 words down in Living Theurgy. Maybe. The Demiurge chapter is seeing a lot of citations, which is always time consuming. It is turning out to be an interesting, and probably so far the longest, chapter in the book, though I expect the next chapter on the gods, reconciling poly- and monotheism in Iamblichus, and the greater beings (all those spiritual beings above the human soul) to be as long if not longer. A few more chapters and the theologia section will be done, then onto philosophia. There is a whole lot written about Iamblichus’ theology, but not so much about his out and out philosophy, so it should be an interesting section. Then, of course, comes the theourgia section.

Mostly, though, I spent the week emailing my department head about the class I’m teaching next month. That took more time, and a lot of mental energy. Which is probably more of an excuse than anything else, but such is life. I spent about 45 minutes talking with him in person today, but that will have to wait until next week’s check in.

How was your week?

Classical Demonology in Urban Fantasy

15 February 2012

There are several examples of how demons have been employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. Though not as popular as vampires, zombies and various species of lycanthropes, demons are still quite useful as powerful hitme . . . hitbeings, and may play a larger role at times, too.

In Jim Butcher’s popular Dresden Files (and yes, I am a fan), there is only the occasional use of demons. When they do appear, however, the system Mr. Butcher uses appears to be a modification of the Solomonic tradition. There is an important emphasis on the magic circle and the use of true names, though the latter is an important features of the series and does not relate only to demonic beings. The use of a magic circle seems to be very important. Crossing the circle, breaking its physical barrier, is enough to ruin the protection it provides, thus releasing the demon. The demon is generally unhappy at having been summoned in the first place and, well, they’re way bigger than most humans, even full-blown wizards. Goriness typically ensues.

Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series (and again, yes, a fan), employs demons differently. First, they are more active in the world. Some of the series main characters are half-demons, expressing some sort of power depending on the kind of demon their father is and how powerful he is. Ms. Armstrong also divides demon-kind in two groups, one evil and one . . . not actively evil: cacodemons and eudemons. As with the Solomonic system, there is also a hierarchy of demons, given the titles of human nobility. These titles, rarely used, are related to their overall power of the demon, which is transferred to a certain extent to their human-demon hybrid children. Perhaps most interesting, though, is that Ms. Armstrong has used, in at least few occasions, the name Aratron, one of the “Olympic Planetary Spirits” from the Arbatel of Magic. Though not considered a demon per se, that doesn’t really matter, as Ms. Armstrong presents Aratron as one of the most powerful of eudemons, which fits the Olympic spirits fairly well.

Finally, though it predates either Dresden Files or the Women of the Otherworld, is James Blish’s The Devil’s Day. This story is about a munitions mogul who is looking for the next big thing. He finds it in the form of demonic evocation. After hiring Theron Ware to summon a demon to assassinate a rival, Blish’s main character contracts Ware to summon every major demon in hell and let them loose for a day to see what happens. The result, of course, is Armageddon, with the win going to Satan, who now has to be God, whether he wants to or not.

Mr. Blish’s uses of Solomonic demonology is quite literal, and he derives his rituals and demonic descriptions from several medieval grimoires. His approach to the nature of the Goetic spirits and their hierarchy is taken verbatim from the grimoire tradition, resplendent in its Christian overtones. In this Mr. Blish’s demonology is far more conservative than than either Ms. Armstrong’s or Mr. Butchers, neither of whom, or instance, have a particularly religious overtone to their demonology. Where Mr. Blish’s demons are fallen angels, those of Mr. Butcher and Ms. Armstrong’s are simply very powerful, frequently, but not always, very evil, other-dimensional beings. We call them “demon” more out of reflex than accuracy.

Demonic evocation is a nearly untapped area in the genre today. These three examples demonstrate the variety of ways in which demons can be employed in contemporary and urban fantasy. With a deeper knowledge of classical demonology, the writer can create a realistic presentation of demons and evocation that can fit into almost any contemporary fantasy worldview.

The Gnostic Demiurge and Archons

15 February 2012

Though not technically part of classical demonology, with the growing popularity of modern Gnosticism, and the Gnostic bad guys as a largely untapped area for fictional villains, it is a useful area with which to be familiar.

What we might call classical Gnosticism is a form of early Christianity that did not become part of mainstream Christianity as we know it today in the West (i.e. descendants of the Roman Church). It flourished in the first and second centuries, had sects join Islam in the form of the Manicheans (who still exist today, though they are greatly persecuted in the Middle East) and lasted into the middle ages by way of the Cathars. Much as there are different sects or denominations of Christianity today, there were different sects among the classical Gnostics as well (and modern Gnostics, for that matter). Besides the Manicheans, the most well known sects were the Sethians and the Valentinians.

In Gnostic cosmogony the physical cosmos is created by a being sometimes called the Demiurge, and more regularly known as Yaldabaoth or Yaltabaoth, who is variously also called Saklas (Fool) and Samael (the Blind God, also a Jewish form of Satan). According to the Sethian Apocryphon of John Yaldabaoth was created by the aeon Sophia, a divine hypostasis or anthropomorphised element of divine reality. Sophia (Wisdom), did this without permission and without her masculine opposite, Barbelo (sometimes Christos, Christ, sometimes Sabaoth, in other forms of Gnosticism), and so instead of emanating like she had planned, she brought forth the malformed, insane and/or evil Yaldbaoth. Because of his origin, Yaldbaoth is filled with divine power and thought he was God. Being God, Yaldbaoth set about creating his own set of angels, the archons or governors. Together, Yaldabaoth and his archons would create humanity and enslave us into worshiping them as false gods.

Some of the the Gnostic texts give a very detailed account of the various archons. For instance, the Apocryphon of John tells us:

[Yaldabaoth] became strong and created for himself other aeons with a flame of luminous fire which (still) exists now. And he joined with his madness which is in him and begot authorities for himself. The name of the first one is Athoth, whom the generations call […]. The second one is Harmas, who [is the eye] of envy. The third one is Kalila-Oumbri. The fourth one is Yabel. The fifth one is Adonaiou, who is called Sabaoth. The sixth one is Cain, whom the generation of men call the sun. The seventh is Abel. the eighth is Abrisene. The ninth is Yobel. The tenth is Armoupieel. The eleventh is Malcheir-Adonein. The twelfth is Belias, who is over the depth of Hades.

This is only a single list of archons within the Apocryphon, and The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World (all found in the Nag Hammadi Codex), give a similar story and different archonic names, though Yaldabaoth remains more or less the same, only varying in his degrees of evil and insanity.

That there are twelve authorities listed above is no coincidence. Yaldabaoth creates an archon for everything, the seven planets, the twelve zodiacal signs, the 365 days of the week and every part of the human body. The point here is that everything in the physical world is governed by these false gods. Unlike the Solomonic system, there does not seem to be a way to control the archons, though some have suggested magical gems with the image of Yaldabaoth or Abraxas on it might have been used in such a way (see here for an example from the blog of Gnostic priest, Jordan Stratford: Gnostic Gems. Unfortunately, the link on the blog is no longer working). The only way to transcend the control of the archons and their master is to transcend the phsycial world and return to the pleroma or fullness of God.

The next installment will be the last. In that I’ll discuss how some of this has been used in contemporary fantasy, looking briefly as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld and the book that began my interest in the genre, Jame Blish’s The Devil’s Day.

Solomonic Demonology

14 February 2012

There is a class of ceremonial magic generally referred to as Solomonic magic. This is, of course, named for the famous King Solomon, son of David. The idea that Solomon was a magician is fairly old, as the second century Testament of Solomon, a sort of prototype for later Solomonic grimoires, attests. Though Solomonic magic is primarily Christian in origin, it is dependent upon both Jewish lore and Arabic magical practices.

The most famous of the Solomonic grimoires is perhaps the Lemegeton Clavicula Solomonis, the Lesser Key of Solomon. Mostly dating from the 14th century, the first book of the Lesser Key, called the Goetia, was made popular once again in the 19th century through the “translation” of S.L. MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Though the second book of the Lesser Key, the Theurgia Goetia, is concerned with spirits which are both good and evil in nature, we will focus on the more well known Goetia, which deals with demons proper.

It is important to know that there is quite a debatable concerning whether or not the Goetia and Theurgia Goetia are about demons, i.e. fallen angels, or some other kind of spirit. Some of the demonic names found in the Goetia are clearly derived from the names of pagan deities. Astaroth, the 29th spirit, is an excellent example of this. The name “Astaroth,” who described as a mighty and strong duke, is understood to come from the Canannite goddess Ashtoreth, the consort of Ba’al, one of the Jewish God’s chief cultural rivals. However, not only are all 42 of the Goetic spirits considered diabolical, they are, generally, considered fallen angels, some of whom, we are told, hope to regain their place in heaven.

Each demon is given a rank: Marquis, Duke, Prelate, Knight, President and Count or Earl. In some Solomonic-derived systems, such as from the Grimoirium Verum, all of the demons are ruled over by one of three greater demons: Lucifer, Beelzebuth and Astaroth, though this is not part of the Lesser Key. Regardless, each demon listed is itself a greater spirit, ruling over a multitude of legions, a legion consisting of 6666 lesser demons. Further, each greater demon is associated with a certain power or ability. The aforementioned Astaroth, whose seal was featured on the “Malleus Maleficarum” episode of the WB’s Supernatural, can “make men wounderfull knowing in all Liberall siences.” The 40th spirit, the Earl Raum, is said to ‘steale Treasures out of kings houses, and to carry it where he is commanded, & to destroy Citties, and ye dignities of men; & to tell all Things past, & wt is, & wt will be; & to cause Love between friends & foes.”

The Goetia is not, however, simply a book about demons. It is a grimoire about how to summon, or evoke, the demons and bend them to servitude. The magic of the Lesser Key relies upon a number of physical implements, including magical seals, a large circle filled with divine names, a magical triangle, and a lamen, a sort of magical pendant, with the demon’s seal or signature on it. To these some include the vestments, magical sword and blasting rod found in the Greater Key of Solomon, which deals not with demonic evocation, but astrological talismans and other, similar, forms of magic.

The actual process of evocation is somewhat drawn out and makes use of lengthy prayers, conjurations and exhortations. Importantly, this is not a kind of demonolatry or diabolical worship. The magician does not even conjure the spirit through his or her own power, but through the holy power of God, who is called upon through various names, some Jewish, some akin to the voce mysteicae of Neoplatonic theurgy.

When next we meet, I’ll discuss, briefly, the Gnostic archons, before moving onto some examples of how classical demons have been incorporated into some well known, and maybe some not so well known, contemporary fantasy.

The Week in Review – 2-5-12

13 February 2012

It’s that time once again, the week in review.

Actually, I didn’t have too much going on this last week. For the most part I reviewed the syllabus for the class I’m teaching in March at Viterbo University (that’s VUSM431 – The Ethical Life from the New Testament Gospels, in case you’d like to take the class). I have three books to read for the class and some movies to watch. And the Gospels, but I’ve read those before.

And, yeah, not an exciting week at all. How was yours?

The Week in Review – 1-29-12

6 February 2012

Two in a row! Anyway, last week was a writing week and another chapter or so of Living Theurgy is done. The MS is at just over 13,000 words and I’ve set out a very, very rough outline of a table of contents. At the moment we’re looking at least 13-15 chapters, and probably around 50,000 words. That, of course is subject to change as necessary. There will also be a number of illustrations in the book, pictures of different Demiurges, gods, spirits, etc. I’m currently planning to paint them in the Orthodox icon inspired style I’m using for the Neoplatonic Tarot (and there will be a chapter on Neoplatonic aesthetics which will, amongst other things, discuss the influence of Neoplatonism on Orthodox Christian iconography).

That’s most of what took up the week. I did send out about 30 e-mails to various university department heads, advertising the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition Conference, and now only time will tell how well this works out or if the conference will have to be canceled.

And . . . that’s about it. Writing non-fiction isn’t quite as sexy as writing contemporary fantasy, so, alas, I don’t have any fun-filled, action packed quotations for you. This current week doesn’t look good, either.

The Week in Review – 1-22-10

30 January 2012

Let’s view this as an experiment, shall we? If you promise to read this, I promise to attempt to write it. Once a week we can talk about all the exciting things that happened to us. Okay, its my blog, so once a week I’ll write about all the probably-not-that-exciting-things that happened to me, you can respond and it’ll be like an actual conversation. It’ll be like we’re living in the future.

Or something.

Anyway. Last week saw the completion of the sketches for the Neoplatonism Tarot I’ve been working on for the last several months. You can find the drawings here: http://jeffreyskupperman.com/gallery/gallery2/. Surprisingly, I’m actually quite happy with most of these. I will likely add in some symbolism to the major arcana as I paint them, but otherwise, I like them. The deck will be painted on wood panels, with acrylic and gold leaf. As you can see, they are drawn in the style of Orthodox icons, and I will try to keep that going throughout the painting process. Each painting will likely be 10″x12″. I will likely write a book to go along with the deck, possibly writing each card as I paint them. Or maybe not. I don’t know yet.

Last week also saw the release of the official Call for Abstracts for the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition Conference 2012. You can find the CFA and information on the conference here: http://jwmt.org/jwmt12/. This will be held, assuming there are enough attendees and enough presenters, July 14-15 in Milwaukee, WI. If you’re interested in attending (or presenting) it would be great to meet you.

My Librarian and I spent Saturday at friends playing a Chaosium RPG set in Austro-Hungry in the 1890s. I’m playing a priest who sees visions of avenging angels and goes out to follow them. Which is to say he isn’t particularly useful unless God is giving him things to do. Also, he prays a lot. Still, it was great to get together with friends, something we don’t have a lot of opportunity to do these days.

Also, I have a cold. It is a baby cold, gifted to me by my 1 year old daughter. If you don’t spend a lot of time around small children you may not be aware that baby colds are evil. And vile. Far more evil and vile than grown-up colds. Consider yourself warned.

As dull as it may seem, that’s about it for the week. Each week I switch off on the various projects I’m working on. This weeks is writing chapters for my non-fiction book, tentatively entitled Living Theurgy. But we can talk about that next week.

What’s Going On.

4 January 2012

Wherein I talk about that which is going on.

I will likely need to expand the website at some point, as I have gone beyond the current main purpose of promoting my fiction writing. All the Devils are Here, the first book of the Machiavel Cycle, is still out there being looked at by the fantastically awesome publishing world, and books 2 and 3 have both been started. The Urban Fantasy Writer’s Guide to Classical Demonology is still in the works, and a version of it will also appear in the next issue of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition. I’m working on a number of other projects as well, however. Beyond the continued publishing of the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition I am in the midst of organizing the JWMT’s first conference, to be held in Milwaukee, WI in July of this year. Look for a Call for Abstracts in the hopefully near-ish future.

On a somewhat more painterly note, I have recently begun to “write” (i.e. paint) religious icons, both for my own entertainment and interest as well as on commission. Photos of icons I’ve written, as well as other some of my other artwork, can be found in the art gallery. Related to this is the Neoplatonism Tarot project. In this I am designing a tarot deck based on the ideology of, well, Neoplatonism, and executed in the style of Greek Orthodox icons. At this point sketches for all of the major arcana and court cards have been completed and can be viewed here. I have a general ideology, based on an Neoplatonic interpretation of Pythagoreanism, for the minor arcana, though I have not yet begun sketching those cards. Once all the sketches are complete each card will be painted in acrylic on wood panel, with gold leaf used for the glories. I will, of course, write a book to accompany the deck, as many of the cards are to be interpreted differently from what is now common. For instance, the elemental attributions to the four suits are quite secondary in this deck, whereas they are generally of great importance to most forms of today’s tarot.

Finally, I am working on a non-fiction book tentatively titled Living Theurgy (with much indebtedness to Monseigneur Jordan Stratford’s Living Gnosticism). This is an exploration of the various Neoplatonic traditions, from Plotinus to Iamblichus and Proclus to Pseudo-Dionysius to Marsilio Ficino both in theory but in practice. The aim of the book is to provide a framework for Neoplatonic mysticism today, not only as individual practices of contemplation and theurgic ritual, but as a way to bring Neoplatonic philosophy into everyday life, making it a truly lived philosophy or way of living. I am also planning on writing, and possibly illuminating, a Neoplatonist’s Book of Hours.

Finally, for those interested in alchemy, I highly recommend picking up Jordan’s A Dictionary of Western Alchemy, if for no other reason because I wrote the forward.

Well, that’s it for the moment. I promise to try to post here more often about the various projects I’ve been working on. If you have been missing my regular company, please join me over on my facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

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