Monday, March 9, 2009

Aaron Leitch on Angelic Pronunciation

I consider Aaron Leitch's Secrets of the Magical Grimoires to be an excellent piece of work on Medieval and Renaissance ceremonial magick. It covers most of the major grimoires and gives good instructions for working with them, and while Leitch seems to be coming at the material from the same perspective as Joseph Lisiewski, he is less dogmatic about it and I think that he does a better job of explaining the reasoning behind his perspective. While I disagree with the idea that the old grimoires are "better" in some way than modern magical techniques because they represent a living tradition of esotericism up until those dated around the Renaissance, from a scholarly perspective his material appears to be essentially correct regarding the usage of such magical texts.

What bothers me a bit about some of Leitch's articles is that while his scholarship is generally solid I sometimes find his writing to be a bit smug and self-aggrandizing. I read an article awhile back that he put together on the Abramelin squares that insisted "for the first time" he had discovered the correct organization of the squares, more correct even than the most recent edition of Abramelin that corrected many mistakes from the original Mathers translation. I don't know very much about the formal Abramelin system so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even though his comments set off a couple of warning flags. A lot of smart people have looked at this material over many years, and the way the article was worded seemed to vaguely imply that clearly none of them were as smart as the great Aaron Leitch who finally managed to decode what they could not. I am exaggerating somewhat for effect, but I still found that the implication detracted from the article.

Seeing as I wasn't going to go delving into my own texts and spend a lot of time working out how correct Leitch's Abramelin squares were, I decided to reserve judgment until he published something on a subject that I do know a lot about and have studied for many years. That opportunity recently presented itself, as Leitch has published a new article on the Internet regarding the pronunciation of John Dee's Angelic language that is slated to be published as part of a new Enochian book that he is writing for Llewellyn. Sure enough, the smugness was back. For example:

As a result, many scholars and occultists have ignored or misinterpreted Dee's notations. (I once read a theory that the notes were actually alternate spellings for the primary words!) Each individual or group that has adopted the Angelical Callings into their magickal systems has developed their own specialized methods of pronunciation. Perhaps the most famous example is the Order of the Golden Dawn, which applied Hebrew rules for vowel-sounds whenever the words contained groupings of consonants. Since then, others have attempted to create pronunciation keys closer to what Dee may have intended (see Laycock's Complete Enochian Dictionary and Christeos Pir's An Essay on Enochian Pronunciation), but these scholars have also passed over Dee's phonetic notations in silence.

I don't have my Laycock handy at the moment, but here's an excerpt from Christeos Pir's essay on Enochian pronunciation.

Where Dee has separated a word into its syllables (eg, Im ua mar), I have hyphenated it so as to more easily discern between word divisions and syllable divisions (Im-ua-mar). Where he has shown stress by using an accent, I have used boldface (q-a-an). In a number of places his marginalia give more than one version of a word, usually in order to clarify its pronunciation; other times he has occasionally written an example for the same purpose -- these I have placed in footnotes.

I have no idea how this essay could possibly be construed as passing over Dee's phonetic notations "in silence." Pir refers to them explicitly! Either Leitch didn't read Pir's essay as closely as he thought he did, or he was hoping that his readers wouldn't actually check.

Furthermore, while whoever put forth the "alternative spelling" idea was clearly ignorant of the original material, the implication that nobody has paid much attention to Dee's phonetic notes is profoundly incorrect. The authors who have done so include Geoffrey James in 1983's Enochian Evocation, Lon Milo DuQuette in 1997's Angels, Demons, and Gods of the New Millenium and of course 2008's Enochian Vision Magick, David Griffin in 1999's The Ritual Magic Manual, and the list goes on. In fact, this leads me to wonder if by "others" Leitch really just means Gerald Schueler and possibly Pat Zalewski - I don't recall whether or not Zalewski mentioned Dee's phonetic notes in Golden Dawn Enochian Magic, but to be fair Zalewski was writing specifically about the Golden Dawn Enochian system.

At any rate, Leitch's interpretation of Dee’s pronunciation notes is reasonably good aside from a couple of problems. The most significant of these is that there is very little evidence supporting his contention that Angelic letters are ever pronounced by just saying the name of the English letter as a full syllable. This idea was first proposed by Leo Vinci in his Gmicalzoma Enochian dictionary and it has never made very much sense to me. For example, in the First Key Leitch contends that DS should be pronounced “dee-es” rather than the more natural “des” or “das” and that CA should be pronounced “see-ay” rather than the obvious “kah.” He also contends that NAZPSAD be pronounced “nays-pee-sad” rather than the obvious “nahz-psad” on the grounds that P and S don’t combine, so you should just say “pee” for the middle syllable of the word. Not only is this a bad solution, the "problem" with PS is in fact no big deal. The word can be pronounced as written quite easily once you are familiar with how it is said.

To digress for a moment, one of the problems that English speakers commonly run into with Angelic is that they decide two sounds don't go together on the grounds that they contain a combination of consonants that are not found in English. In many cases the combinations are only difficult to pronounce because the speaker doesn't have the right sort of muscle memory to speak it easily rather than for any physical reason involving the structure of the mouth and tongue. As with any foreign language, this problem can be resolved through practice. Take VORSG as an example. The RSG is hard to say when you first try it - the word tends to come out in two syllables as "VOR-SAG." But imagine putting a K on the end of the word instead of a G, ending the word on a combination of sounds that are more commonly found in English - VORSK. This is actually no harder to say than VORSG, it just is more familiar. Try alternating the two words and you'll see what I mean. The NAZPSAD example is similar - PS in English commonly is turned into just an S as in Psalm, but it can also be pronounced as written with a some practice.

Getting back to Leitch's lexicon, there are several other examples that I find highly questionable. He contends that VORSG be pronounced “vorzh” even though the final G is clearly present in Dee’s pronunciation notes, that POAMAL should be pronounced “poh-mal” rather than “poh-ah-mal” even though both the O and A appear in Dee’s pronunciation notes, and that CICLE should be pronounced “sii-kayl” rather than “kee-kleh” based on the usage of LE in several other unrelated Angelic words. This idea starts to drift into the same territory as Geoffrey James’ attempts to “correct” the Angelic Keys by resolving what he saw as inconsistencies in the language, when we as non-native speakers don’t necessarily know which sounds should be consistent with each other. Imagine if somebody decided to go through the English language and correct the inconsistencies between different pronunciations of “ough” – through, enough, bough, thorough, and so forth. Who’s to say that Angelic is any more regular?

Some of Leitch's other choices are more a matter of taste and there is little scholarly justification either for or against them, though they can result in words sounding rather different. In my own Enochian work I standardize my vowel pronunciations to mostly short sounds, while Leitch seems to prefer long vowel sounds and uses them extensively. I standardize phonetic C to a K sound while Leitch likes it better as an S sound. I usually standardize G to a hard sound, while Leitch likes soft G's and uses them more commonly. And so on. Choices like these can go in more than one direction and change the sound of the language accordingly, but I will say that none of them result in anything as divergent or, honestly, just plain weird as the Golden Dawn pronunciation system. There are plenty of magicians out there who claim to get good results with the Golden Dawn pronunciation, and using anything that is closer to the original material should make those results even better.

For all of my criticisms, Leitch remains a decent scholar and is smart enough not to claim that his method is the "one true pronunciation." He is also to be commended for adding another published work asserting the primacy of John Dee's actual notations regarding the pronunciation of the language that he and Edward Kelley discovered in their actions with spirits, which strikes me as the only common-sense position one can take regarding the Angelic language. I would far rather run into magicians who treat Leitch's system as the gospel truth than Golden Dawners who insist that I need to insert a bunch of useless Hebrew vowels into my conjurations. There is at least some real scholarly justification for the former.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble


el oso said...

Please see my comment at your latest review of Frater W.I.T.s new book.


Imperator David Griffin said...

Note that I refute Aaron Leitch's absurd claims of originality in considering Dee's Enochian diacritical marks in the same blog that I refute his equally absurd claims that I had plagiarized his work.

Aaron seems to sometimes let his ego get the best of him!

Imperator David Griffin said...

- David Griffin

Rufus Opus said...

Aaron Letich is one of the most humble people I've ever met. He is well read, and when he uses language like "never before published," he isn't bragging, he's shocked.

@David, your accusation of his ego getting the best of him would be hilarious if it weren't such a piquant reminder of how twisted the politics of Golden Dawn lodges can make a person. This kind of arrogant bullshit between you people is what had me convinced the Goolden Dawn itself was a poisoned system that turns anyone who dabbles in it into a selfrighteous magically weak twisted egocentric asshat.

Then I met people like Aaron, who were GD magicians, but weren't blinded by their own titles or grade levels. People who do the Work as if it were important in and of itself, not just read about it so they can look smart and be all smarmy on internet comment threads like you and Zink do.

I met him and Fr. AIT, two people who not only do the work, but remain humble and dedicated to the truth, whether it is their understanding of it or not. People who do the magic because it's why they're here, it's their primary function, and the writing about it and sharing it is their secondary function.

They redeemed the GD egregore in my eyes. They and a few, a VERY FEW others who have convinced me their GD Work is really helping them accomplish the Great Work in spite of the bullshit the outer order heads like you throw around at each other.

Imperator David Griffin said...

I have no doubt that Aaron is a nice person, although we have never met. However, Aaron clearly did a hatchet job on The Ritual Magic Manual, likely at the behest of the order that he belonged to. I really would not have minded were it no for Aaron's completely unsubstantiated, false allegations of plagiarism that he made. This was made yet more absurd by his later having "borrowed" my observations about the diacritical marks in Dee's original manuscripts, publishing them as they were his own discovery.

Rufus Opus said...

Whatever, dude. "Likely at the behest of the Order he belonged to"? Fucking serious? Is that something your Order does, pressures scholars to hatchet up a published manual of magic? Is that something the scholars in your Order would let you do to their work?

Can you see how your machiavellian mind creates political machinations that go against common sense?

Borrowing your observations and publishing them as if they were his own work? You ever hear of Moloch? Brother Moloch, the radionics-sorcery-NAP-Huna guy that runs the Evocational Magics yahoo group? He's got the same thing warping his perspective that you have. If anyone thinks of something that he's ever written about, he assumes they've stolen it from him. You know he thinks anyone who calls themselves "sorcerors" is stealing his idea? Think about that.

If Aaron is saying the same thing you've said elsewhere, then chances are pretty good that he's reached the same conclusions you have. Is it a word for word copy-paste of your work? That's plagiarism. But if he's arrived at the same understanding of a subject you have, then it's nothing more than scholarly confirmation of your own observations. If you were right, then damn, of course anyone else doing the research you did will arrive at the same conclusion. That doesn't mean they're ripping you off.

I really want to respect you for your Work. I wish I could see something about you that demonstrated that you are a practicing magician worthy of respect in our mutual pursuit of the Hermetic Ideal. Most of the time you come across as a lawyer worried more about proving his interpretation of the law than a magician looking for what works.

Aaron has his issues, as do most of you GD folk. I blame it on being immersed in the politics of Order life. But he has an innocence about him, a childlike awe of the powers and the potential implication of those powers that comes through. He loves the Great Work, and in his endeavors, he comes across as a magician sharing the awesome shit he's found so others can share it too.

You come across as a personality trying to prove how cool you are. Arguing with Peregrine. Psh. Really? What a waste of your time and talent. Sometimes I just want to shake you and point to the Emerald Tablet and yell, "Rise to the heavens, return to Earth in Power, and CREATE THE FUCKING WORLD!!!" Because you're so stuck in Hodian cutting and slicing and structuring and ordering that you don't bring the beauty, power, grace, love, and infinite passion that comes with the Work.

And it's damned depressing. All the Hermetic awesomeness of the universe at your fingertips, and you worry more about whether human beings are giving you the credit you think you deserve for some thoughts you thought. Come on man, snap the fuck out of it.

Imperator David Griffin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Imperator David Griffin said...

This conversation started because Aaron falsely accused me of plagiarism. I refuted that then found it humorous that he was doing the same thing he accused me of. Thanks for proving my point despite your rant against the entire Golden Dawn tradition.

Rant all you like, brother. I personally have better things to do than to banter further with you about this - Real world stuff like teaching the basic techniques of The Great Rite to others in Portland all weekend long this weekend and continuing to bring even more hidden material from occulted Hermetic sources in Europe. You will have to go on enjoying your polemical hair splitting without me.