The Primary Message of the Goetic Demon Kings :: Know Yourself
by Race MoChridhe
In my last article, we examined the strange afterlife of the Goetia’s demon kings, focusing on their uptake in contemporary popular culture as a form of entertainment. We gave less attention to the reasons for their survival as objects of occult working, and it is this which we now consider.
As I observed before, most of us have forgotten the great demonologies that it once obsessed scholars to compile; and the magickal arts that commanded their denizens, have passed for the greater part into oblivion. The preservation of some small portion of both by a diverse panoply of occultists, sorcières, and Satanists is a testament to a much more powerful and pervasive form of forgetting, however.
In Greek—the great theurgical language of the West—the word for truth is aletheia, which literally means “un-forgetfulness” (sharing a common root with the river Lethe in Hades, which erased the memories of the shades [spirits of the dead] who drank from it). This is because, in common with many other systems of esoteric and mystical teaching the world over, the ancient Greeks held that the soul, on some very deep level, retained the knowledge of all things from its once blessed state of union with divinity, but became forgetful of them upon entering the plane of physical manifestation. This teaching is expressed very clearly in Islam, where the story of Adam and Eve is told not as a tale of disobedience and rebellion, but as one of forgetfulness, where the primordial couple eats of the fruit because they are not mindful of God’s command.
The concept of forgetfulness is less foregrounded in Christianity, but implicitly present, as St. Paul’s writings make clear that all human beings are mystically united as one in Christ (Romans 12:5; Galatians 3:28)—an idea to which Jesus alludes many times in the Gospels, such as in John 15:5, to which we shall shortly return. To the extent that Christ dwells within us, and that we “have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 2:5) such that God is in us all (Ephesians 4:16), all knowledge belongs to us by birthright, and it is only by the forgetfulness of our earthly existence that we do not remember.
In surveying the lists of the Goetia’s demons, who promise many and varied rewards to their summoners, it is therefore striking that the most common—indeed, nearly ubiquitous—promise is knowledge. The king known as Paimon (or Paimonia, or Pymon, depending on source) is an excellent example. He comes from his house in the northwest with a great roaring voice atop his dromedary. He is lovely of aspect, but does not offer his summoner comeliness.
He wears a precious crown, but does not offer riches. He is escorted by a swelling retinue of infernal musicians, but does not promise cheer. He commands two hundred legions, and may be accompanied by captains commanding yet more, but it is not power for which his aid is sought. Instead, he is evoked as a teacher of all manner of arts, philosophies, and sciences—able to divulge each kind of understanding, from the mysteries of the natural world to the nature of the mind. It is in this last that the point comes home most forcefully that he has been evoked precisely to learn what, in truth, we should know already within ourselves.
In Filianic lore, the Daughter of Eternity (a figure cognate in many ways to Christ, or the Shekhinah, or a Bodhisattva) is accosted by a host of demons who taunt and threaten Her. When their threats do not avail, they seek to tempt Her, offering to deliver the whole world into Her power, but She responds simply, “How shall you give to Me that which is Mine?” (Mythos 4:9) One thinks of the king called Beleth (or Bilet, Bileth, Byleth), who was legendarily invoked by Noah’s son Ham to help him write a treatise on mathematics.
The grimoires tell us that he is of terrible aspect, and will seek to frighten his summoner, who must maintain the steel will to strike a triangle with a hazel wand and command Beleth to enter it. Often enough, Beleth refuses, in which case our terrified magician must rehearse again the extensive list of threats attached to his conjurations, at which point Beleth will become obedient, provided that the evoker also pay the homage due to one holding the rank of king, show utmost respect, and hold a silver ring against his own face in imitation of the deference shown in hell to the demonic prince Amaymon.
What are we to make of this near schizophrenic fusion of arrogance and obsequiousness—of command and contrition? It is the pitiful usage of one who has gone to a loan shark to borrow his own inheritance, or apprenticed himself to an abusive master to learn the teachings of a book that he, himself, has authored. To be “in thrall to the Devil” has come, in our culture, to sound of melodrama and superstition, but it becomes rather more intelligible when we imagine the occultist, whose innermost being is one with the Source of all Creation, alternately beckoning and bowing to Beleth to ask the secrets of the cosmos and we recall, with eyes fixed upon that sad sight, Kant’s definition of enlightenment as the “release from self-induced tutelage”.
It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that the authors of these grimoires were simply too ignorant of perennial metaphysics to realize the absurdity of the scene. On the contrary, the grimoires—like all other literary inheritances from the ancient world—have come to us primarily through churchmen, who were the preservers of both the texts and their arts throughout the Middle Ages.
We noted last time the Book of Abramelin the Mage, which taught the art of summoning demons for the purpose of overcoming and banishing them. Other books were less obvious in their intent, offering instead warnings by their contents. This is most clearly seen in the case of the king named Viné, who, like so many others, “answereth of things hidden”. Viné’s name is, indeed, etymologically derived from Latin vinea, meaning vine. In rehearsing the New Testament’s many assertions of human unity with the divine nature I alluded briefly to John 15:5, which those who won school awards for scripture knowledge will recognize as the famous saying of Jesus to the Apostles that “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Viné’s symbology systematically alludes to and opposes that of Jesus. Viné appears in the form of a lion, which both alludes to the lion as symbol of the lineage of Solomon (and hence the ancestry of Jesus, cf. Matthew 1:6–16) and implicitly opposes Jesus’ symbolism as the lamb (John 1:29) through reference to Isaiah 11:6. Viné rides a horse, opposing Jesus’ riding of the donkey on Palm Sunday (John 12:14). He builds large towers, opposing God’s casting down of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:8), and he makes waters choppy or stormy, in contrast to Jesus’ calming of the storm on the waters (Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24). The originator of this depiction thus established his demon king as the antithesis of Christ, but it would be simplistic of us to read this merely as a stock portrayal of unholiness.
In the context of the purposes for which Viné is summoned, it would seem that the author of his description wanted us to be confronted, as starkly as possible, with the realisation that we are seeking outside ourselves a knowledge that, in truth, lies within, and that in doing so we conform ourselves to a twisted image that reflects our forgetting of the image in which we are made.
Wherever the summoning of demons finds a new lease on life, we may thus be sure that it owes less to preserving the memory of ancient arts, and more to forgetting an ancient wisdom. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus instructs His disciples, saying: “[T]he kingdom is inside of you… When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.” (Thomas 3)
What the Goetia and all like grimoires teach us is not how to call demons out of hell, but how to recognize that, if we have allowed ourselves to become the poverty of our own ignorance, hell is precisely where we are.