Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Secrets of Solomon

One of the really cool things about living in the Twin Cities is that the wonderful Joseph H. Peterson only lives a couple of hours away.

This last weekend, he came to Leaping Laughter Oasis in Minneapolis and gave a presentation on his latest book, The Secrets of Solomon: A Witch's Handbook from the trial records of the Venetian Inquisition. Peterson is one of the few authors in the grimoire field doing academic-quality research, and his books on the various texts and their histories are always illuminating.

I bought a copy of the book at the presentation and have not had a chance to read it, but I figured for today I would summarize a couple of takeaways from Peterson's presentation that are relevant to issues that keep coming up in discussions of the grimoires.

The Secrets of Solomon is a grimoire that is explicitly dedicated to working with chthonic spirits. It appears to be one of the sources used by the original author of the Grimoirium Verum, and it is clearly aware of the Key of Solomon. It positions itself as a grimoire for working with chthonics, whereas the Key of Solomon is dedicated to working with "aerial" spirits (which I usually refer to as celestial). Here are a few takeaways related to issues that have come up in the grimoire community that The Secrets of Solomon may help to shed some light on.

The text is clear that chthonic spirits are supposed to communicate visually, and aerial (or celestial spirits) do not. In other words, if you're charging up your Key of Solomon pentacles and trying to get the spirits to appear visually, according to the tradition you are doing it wrong. I doubt this is an absolute rule, and I also know from experience that the modern scrying techniques I use work fine, but it's a nice point to be able to pull out in those arguments over the whole visual appearance thing. It The Secrets of Solomon is to be believed, the celestials from the Key of Solomon don't necessarily appear and in fact are not supposed to.

According to the text, chthonic spirits can generally accomplish more than celestials. I can't personally say that I've found that to be the case, since I'm able to do about the same level of effects with both, but it's no surprise that the author of the text is going to say that the methods they are outlining are the best, whether or not that's true. The trade-off is that celestials can be "bound into a ring and carried with you" for performing ad hoc magical effects. This is an interesting idea for the Key of Solomon pentacles - what if you made a ring for one of the pentacles, enchanted it for general effects related to its function, and wore it around? It seems to me that could be a very useful technique.

Even though The Secrets of Solomon is one of the sources used by the author of the Grimoirium Verum, there is no mention of Scirlin or pacts or anything like that. That material, which caused a small amount of controversy years ago, must have been added later. Apparently the chthonic methods in The Secrets of Solomon worked fine without it, which makes one wonder why it was added in the first place. This makes the modern idea that Scirlin is some sort of "road-opener" spirit like those found in African Traditional Religions seem kind of dubious to me. I've been saying for years that there's no need to pull ATR ideas into the grimoires, even if general concepts like offerings that are found in ATRs but are not specific to them work in practice.

The text discusses the use of various exotic materials in this form of magick. Materials with close affinities to the natures of particular spirits perform two functions. First, the attract the spirits to them. Second, they provide a sort of "interface point" for the spirits to manipulate the physical world. This is not really a huge revelation on its own - it's basically the doctrine of natural magick as found in Medieval and Renaissance sources. But it sounds like the treatment of the information is clearer and more spelled-out than in other sources, much like the information on communicating visually with the different classes of spirits.

The chthonic spirits in The Secrets of Solomon are grouped according to celestial classifications, even though they are of a chthonic nature. This is also found in texts like the Lemegeton, but what it suggests is that if you are going to model where the chthonic spirits might go on the Tree of Life (keeping in mind that qlippoth =/= chthonics as they're a whole other thing), you just associate them with the matching celestial aspect. So Crowley's sorting of the spirits of the Lemegeton in Liber 777 could be a reasonable way to go. It's as if you treat the planets, elements, and signs on the Tree of Life (Naples Arrangement) as having a celestial and a chthonic "side." This appears to be what Crowley is implying by including the Lemegeton demons in Liber 777 and mapping them onto paths.

This is a short article, but there's a lot in here that's significant in terms of some of the discussions going on now in the grimoire community. I'll be posting a full review of Peterson's book once I get a chance to read it, but for now this will have to suffice. You can pick up your own copy of The Secrets of Solomon here.

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