Problems With the Grimoire Crowd

***This first appeared yesterday on some lists dedicated to Goetic and Solomonic Magic. Because of time constraints, I did not want to publish it widely, as I would not have time to defend every point ad-infinitum, which is often what is demanded after making statements like this. Since then I have gotten several requests to publish it openly, so…. here we go...***

Hi Everybody. Jake Stratton-Kent caught me vaguebooking this week, twice saying something along the lines of “despite some problems with the grimoire crowd…” than going on to talk about something else without ever listing those problems. Yesterday he invited me to actually write about those problems and to do it here.

First thing I want to note is that I know very well that the Grimoire, or Old Magic, community is not monolithic at all. I am a moderator on Solomonic and am familiar with the range of opinions. Everything I say below will apply to some, but not all. If you are tempted to reply to say “Thats not what I think at all”, you dont have to, because I am not talking about you.

The second thing I want to say is that I am not against the Grimoires, Old School Magic, or anything else. If I was I really wouldn’t bother with any criticism at all. Indeed THE big advancement in western magic since 2000 has been the renewed interest in magic that came before and beyond the English and French Lodge-based systems. The babies that were thrown out with the bathwater by the GD and other groups like it have been a huge boon to the western occult tradition.

That said, a few years into the old school renaissance the Grimoire tradition started throwing babies out with its own bathwater.

For example three times now I have had Grimoire based magicians schedule consults in order to help them see and communicate more clearly with the spirits, but I immediately get told that the excercise I give, which used visualization and energy in the body, must be new age, or GD based crap because it is not “the old ways” or “in the grimoires”. Of course the exercise I was teaching was actually written by Niguma in the 10th century.

It no longer becomes just about making sure that spirit based magic gets its due, but about making sure that people think energetic, mental, or visualization practices are crap. Even in the intro to Skinners new book on the PGM, he goes to lengths to say that magic is done solely through spirits and that energetic or visualized practices have nothing to do with magic. Magic in the 2nd century Mesopotamia maybe, but even then I doubt it…

Just as I was critical of Chaos Magic in the 90s for harping on whatever was new, or even just sounded new because it sounded like pseudo scientific twaddle, I am equally critical of the view that what is oldest is truest. As if there is some golden period of the past and everything that came after is a corruption. In my opinion this is not the case. It is important to go back and look at these traditions, to pick up on what others in the past have missed, or viewed through a distorting lens (theosophy for example), but that does not mean that we should ignore everything that came after. Yet time and again I hear the refrain “Everything from the GD on is crap”. While not a fan of the GD, I do find some worth in Crowley, in Bardon, in William Gray, and others.

In short, its not enough for peoples water to taste sweet. They must piss into anothers cup to make sure that it doesn’t.

Which brings me to results. Time and again I hear people in the Grimoire community, particularly those that are sticking REALLY close to the script with the virgin spun thread and lion belts, talk about how they or other people they like are getting “results” and not “fantasy”. Anyone who knows my work knows I place a heavy emphasis on weeding out fantasy, and focusing on measurable results, but honestly this has more to do with the application of magic than the methods themselves. People in the Groimoire community are rarely really applauding better results than anyone else gets, they are simply believing those peoples experiences because they use similar methods, and not believing others experiences because they don’t.

When someone advances string theory because a demon taught them something new about physics, or makes the news by flying through the air, or gets rich by having gold just show up, I will acknowledge that you are getting better results than everyone else. Till then, do your work and make your contribution. The work of people doing it with the lion skin belts and ebony altars IS a contribution, but it does not have to be presented with a heavy helping of “everything else is crap.”

Now lets talk spirits. In the 90’s I was always finding myself to be the only guy in the room that wanted to discuss spirits as if they were real and not parts of our brain, like the Crowley/DuQuette/Carroll camp pushed. I am elated that things have swung the other way. BUT, its now erring in the other direction. While not “in our heads” these beings are not simple and fully separate either. Multiple pasts, overlapping cultural overlays, manifestations that range of the truly cosmic to the strikingly egotistical, Spirits, Demons, Angels, Gods are not less subtle than we are – they are more. Yet in the zeal to depart from the psychological model, it becomes taboo to discuss these experiences in these terms AT ALL. What you get at the edge of a circle is in fact effected by your own mind, also the mode you called it under, and the place you are doing the working. I think that the Grimoire crowd over-simplifies Spirits to an absurd degree.

Then there is Christianity. On the one hand you have people who approach the Grimoires like they are role-playing a 17th century Priest and commanding the shit out everything in the name of JHVH. Then on the other hand you have people trying to remove Christianity completely and re-paganize grimoire like the GV. Christianity has been here for two thousand plus years now. It is PART of the narrative. The Grimoire scene is very keen on taking ques from ATR’s like Quimbanda. Well, Quimbanda does not feel the need to remove all trace of Christianity. St Cyprian is still St Cyrpian. The Maioral of all the lineages is St Michael – in this there is a great mystery. Kind of like very early Wicca, people want the devil without the diabolic. The whole thing then runs the risk of turning into yet another Pagan re- constructionist exercise.

There is even among some quarters a push to choose the Chthonic OR the Auranic. Like they are mutually exclusive or at war. Quimbandanistas in training are often told to get involved in a “light” path like Santeria or Christian Spiritism as an off-set to the nightside world of Quimbanda. In Tantric Buddhism there is no mutual exclusivity between serving Wrathful spirits covered in blood, bone, amidst darkness and flame and serving Peaceful one represented with silks, jewels floating in pastel clouds and rainbow light. Both are necessary.

Anyway, I could go on, but this is too long as is.

I have never seen a path, system, religion, or group that I did NOT have criticisms of including my own, so take this all with a grain of salt and make of it what you will. I was asked, and I answered.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments

A very interesting article. Speaking as someone who knows very little about Grimoire Magic, what would you describe as its strengths as compared to other systems?


Interesting. I was just telling one of my students recently that visualization, meditation, and energy work are most likely NOT “new age,” seeing as there are passages in the PGM itself that say “add the usual,” (and I generally know what’s meant by that, being very familiar with the PGM.) It’s more likely that these grimoires were passed with the idea that those using them had enough training to use such types of methods, much in the same way, when I tell a neophyte to stroke the candle in x direction in a simple candle spell to “bring to them,” I’d not even bother saying as much to someone past their beginner stage, assuming it to be common knowledge.


I agree with you there Jason. Although most would hate to hear this (and I apologize to those I offend by my remarks), there tends to be rigidity in most groups…even those that buck tradition, or feel they are outside of it, like magic. As a medium and Palero, as well as shaman, I am tired of the judgement and marginalization of what is spirit informed or spirit-led in Wiccan, shamanic and magical, as well as traditional religious communities. Isn’t that the point of the work we do? To be able to communicate with the spirit world? When so much emphasis is put on following a tradition, and its writings to the letter, it also brings limitation and closed mindedness. I feel we are in a time where we are being called on to integrate all of our knowledge. An interfaith/interspiritual approach to various traditions can be healthy, expanding and give one an over view of their own tradition that is eye opening. Accepting the spirit world for what it is, as complex and multi-layered as our own world, lessens the fear of spirit. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other and all of our contributions are significant. However, there is not only ONE way. And even when we think we have found one way, things change and we have to find a new way of working. I have come to embrace that!

Andrieh Vitimus

If I was going to be perfectly honest, besides the constant “chaos magicians suck” without actually taking each thing each person as individual says as their own research point, this is why I have somewhat formally stopped discussing occult matters online, outside to my personal students, friends ( like you) and fans. I wont be going back either outside the needed public component of being a public figure.

The resurgence of this “by the book” and “historical fact” kinda shows a lack of real understanding of cultural relevancy ignoring what the best practices I see in the study of history ( historical fact, really means historical opinion), displays a lazy tendency towards intellectual dogmatism (rigidity of though), and a rather pedestrian and dismissive attitude toward any experiential and well documented evidence even evidence that is statistically significant and constructed using blinds meeting many of the criteria of social science research. In short, I am not interested in having those discussions any more and they serve to help no one in the same way I have no interest in having a discussion with a fundamental Christian ( now a Gnostic Christian, well that could be fun).

Odilr Lee

Well done! I agree, wholeheartedly – having a sensible, logical approach to any kind of magic works for me.
Having been a Thelemic magickian for 30 odd years ( it took most of it to even GRASP what Crowley was getting at, let alone understand ), I have been trained in the scientific approach. Theory, practice, analysis. Use science- our greatest tool, to test, try, and enjoy different methods of thought, practice, theory. Why throw the baby out with the batheater? If anything, Crowley taught me thru his teachings, that without science, we have no way to really know if we have success.
I was once a new age, airy fairy wiccan airhead myself. Despite warnings, having been brought up by old school rigorous and very, very strictly scientific parent – I myself decided to find out for myself what really was at the root of magic. Despite terrible disabling ADHD, and a imagination that would believe just about anything ( often in desperation ), years of discipling myself thru Thelemic guidelines- after decades I indeed found out for myself- nearly all I sought. Answers.
I myself, stuck with Thelema not out of dogma- but because it gave me guidelines to support me, while encouraging experiment.
I can honestly say that a natural talent for researching, combined with a desire to find what works, really made me into someone who took classical teachings, and looked for new ways to work.
One happy result, I wrote a book on Solomonic Grimoire magic- specifically the Goetia of Legetamon- yet, in this writing you find Leary’s 8 circuit system, Jungian philosophy, a guide to knowing common fallacies, and more. I found that in explaining the gist of it to my Therapist ( for ADHD), that I had produced something that could explain from Solomonic roots to modern day psychtherapy – or as I put it, ” Ive traced a path thru the ages, up to modern therapy- to show how perhaps, what exactly I might be doing when performing these rituals, so that you could understand. Without even knowing much about magic, or all the hundreds of books Ive read to get to this point.”
What I got specifically, from Crowley- was a understanding of the hard work he did, in adhering to classical structures. Then, analyzing what made these work. Then, making a system that incorporated all these, showed their structures, and indeed, went beyond.
Im lucky to have grasped this much, for his work is far beyond me.
But like any genius knows, for example, Stravinsky or Balanchine ( music and dance), true creation comes only after you grasp the measure of what comes before. I believe the weakness of ” creative” types, is never understanding this and thinking anything can be beyond it. Whereas dogmatics, think it is ever only the classical structures.
It makes me wonder, how can anyone in this day and age, not grasp how science is the tool to determine not only what has worked, but how to try new techs that have veen discovered after the classical, accepted structures? It is, elementary. I can only postulate, fear and a terrible lack of true creative understanding.
I ended up being enlighted by Crowley’s ever- fearless need to make fun of dogmatic stodge ( and if anyone had a reason to do so, it was him. He did the hard yakka to get to the point where he knew so much, he COULD do so.) Like Dali, he understood that sometimes the way to enlighten, is not to debate seriousness but to laugh at its sheer rigid stupidity. It takes a very brave but also very learned person to know how.
For the rest of us, I always say- there is a reason secret societys are secret!

Stone Dog

The simple truth is that renouncing the firm, reassuring simplicity of having a “true and superior” system, to set sail on an ocean of ever changing currents of thought and practice, takes BALLS, whereas people mostly come to magic looking for a fix for their weakness and feelings of powerlessness.

Keeping an open mind takes the willingness to humbly accept your ignorance and your very limited ability to navigate this complexity, knowing that you won’t ever be able to “grasp” it fully. To have CONTROL.

Most people involved in magic are interested in feeling powerful and in control – in being “right” – far more than they are interested in making an honest intellectual effort to learn the truth. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. I’m just saying, the nature of magic is such that it attracts more people willing to believe than it attracts people willing to research. I think that’s unlikely to change any time soon.


This – everything you describe – is why I’ve changed my tune regarding reconstructionism this past year. Folks in this camp have always asserted that they’re not just a bunch of LARPers. Well, at least LARPers can acknowledge that they’re playing a fantasy game. I used to hear others opine that the search for an uncorrupted practice, encased in amber (just waiting to be cloned!), was impossible to achieve. Which, God help me, I found unconvincing. What I didn’t realize until now is that it can be far too limiting when “authenticity” is considered an end unto itself. I seem to recall Gordon saying something once about how Dee and his contemporaries were all men of their time…that they never tried to slavishly imitate their predecessors. I don’t know how true that is, but I found the idea very refreshing.

But more than that, I’m not going to live my life pretending as if the last few hundreds or thousands of years never happened. That seems more disrespectful to history than anything else, and I won’t do it anymore. If you really love something, wouldn’t you treasure it in all its facets, from beginning to end?


    This is a great comment. The problem I have with this comment, as with other comments and the post in general, is that it feels as though we’re not diving deep enough. I’ll do my best to clarify.

    Authenticity is an important factor; authenticity of the Self, authenticity in our dealings with others, of what we do in our daily life, and with regards to magical/spiritual/religious practice. But we cannot be authentic with regards to anything if we don’t first do the serious work of “authenticity as an end unto itself”. I say this because of the continuous life, death, rebirth cycle which is apparent in Everything. When we approach the end of the “authenticity as an end unto itself” phase, that is when the realizations of how to extend this authenticity beyond ourselves begins, and the authentic Self extends into authentic communication, authentic magic, authentic ritual, authentic Everything extending from us.

    We are also men and women of our times, but time is constantly shifting. You and I will not be the same one hour from now. As an example, I could receive a phone call in the next 30 minutes which turns my world completely upside-down and as a result, my perception of Everything and Everyone shifts, including how I perceive myself, which in turn, will effect how I practice magic, how I honor my spirits, my religious practice, etc. Just the things I’ve read today (and a phone call) have already altered all of this to a degree.

    I fully agree that it is foolish to ignore the past. It is incredibly disrespectful to do so and the spirits from the past may certainly have their say if one does so. However, while the past hundreds or thousands of years have contributed a great deal to who we are as the men and women of our times today, I keep wondering why we allow the past to define who we are, rather than acknowledging the past has contributed to our knowledge and understanding of who we are and why we do what we do, and continue to build upon it, shift it, update it, incorporate it as necessary for who each of us are and for where each of us live… because the past cannot be changed. At least so far as we know at the moment. Never ignore it but never allow it to completely define any “system”.

    Please understand I’m coming from a place where I, as an individual, have consistently been defined by my past and/or defined by a particular label(s) which simply does not apply. While I, as an individual, acknowledge my past is part of who I am as a person, it certainly does not define who I am as a complete and whole individual.

    This is what I’m attempting to state when it comes to any system of magic. The past is there to be utilized and built upon as a learning tool, in my honest opinion, but not the end all, be all, of any system… be it the “system” of an individual, or a “system” of magic.

    This is where I’m coming from when I speak of Chaos Magic, culture, etc. One begins with the Self (including one’s own cultural and magical Self) and works out, or vice versa, then back again. It doesn’t matter where one begins because the pendulum always swings back and forth, and everything and everyone is always included because we are all interconnected.

    I know, I rambled. Please forgive me, but this was such a great comment, and it simply got my fingers typing away.


“Everyone may educate and regulate his imagination so as to come thereby into contact with spirits, and to be taught by them.”
Paracelsus, Philosophica Sagax (1537-8)


I discovered your internet site site online and check several of your early posts. Keep on the top notch operate. I just now additional your Feed to my MSN News Reader. Searching for forward to reading a lot far more from you obtaining out later on!…


Oh my goodness! an wonderful write-up dude. Thanks a ton Nonetheless I will likely be experiencing dilemma with ur rss . Do not know why Not able to join it. Can there be every person acquiring identical rss issue? Anybody who knows kindly respond. Thnkx


Leave a Reply: