Monday, July 24, 2017

The Strange Afterlife of Goetic Demon Kings (Part I)

Goetic demon king Baal
Goetic Demon King Baal (Bael)

The Last Great Conjurers (Touching Upon the Topic of Demon Kings)

by Race MoChridhe

Arts, like humans, are tenacious; they will find ways to survive. Most people think of classical music for example, as being something static and preserved. But in truth, orchestral composition is very much a dynamic and living art form, constantly budding with new work that the old masters would recognize as being akin to their own. It simply went where most of us don’t think to look for it; what were once symphonic suites are now film scores. Evocation is an art like this. The word itself is Latin—evocare—literally meaning to call out or to call forth.

Referred to rituals of the Roman army illustrate that they induced the tutelary deity of a city to abandon it and leave it a prey to Roman conquest. Generally, the god or goddess in question would be lured out with offers of a new, grander temple or more lavish festivals and devotions in the Roman occupation, in order to forestall any bad feelings that might arise if the existing temple or other sacred sites were to be damaged or plundered. During the late Empire, there were few new cities left to conquer in the wake of the victorious Roman legions, and few believers in tutelary deities left in the wake of victorious Christian missionaries, and so the art of evocation reinvented itself.

Goetic Demon king Asmodeus
Goetic Demon King Asmodeus (Asmoday)

In the new hybrid of Christianity and nostalgic imperium that came to be called Christendom, the evoker’s art stopped calling gods out of cities and began calling angels out of heaven and, more controversially, demons out of hell. Both, reputedly, could offer knowledge, wealth, and power to those equipped to command them. In the high middle ages, this equipment consisted primarily of pure intent and the favor of God, without which no spell or incantation was believed to avail. By the early Renaissance, however, the success of the scientific method and the emerging discipline of mechanical engineering inspired a renewal of the ancient magical belief that a ritual performed correctly will get results regardless of such niceties as unblemished hearts and lives of prayer.

The printing press thus, in more ways than one, brought forth a profusion of mass-produced demonological reference books and grimoires from the late 1400s on, intended to aid the aspiring evoker in his chosen work. Bafflingly contradictory and routinely plagiarized, these works fell out of popular favor after the enthusiasm for witch hunting died down in the early 18th century. Though they continued to circulate and to find admirers, evocation became an increasingly arcane hobby that left the realm of county fair cunningfolk and back alley fortune tellers to move into French salons and upscale London apartments.

There, these works were studied, cultivated, and systematized first by the Rosicrucians and then by the para-Masonic magical orders such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. To the extent that most of what contemporary people know about evocation, is owed to this tradition, and particularly to the work of MacGregor Mathers in translating the Lesser Key of Solomon—commonly known as the Goetia—and of Aleister Crowley in publishing it with his own additions, which included an ingenious treatise redefining evocation for the modern age, and presenting it as a tool for making contact with the deeper aspects of one’s own psyche.

Goetic demon king Belial and some followers (woodcarving)
Goetic Demon King Belial and some of his followers

Though it is still the case that most people have never read even the Goetia—now undoubtedly the most commonly circulated and cited grimoire—a surprising number know the names of some of the demons it describes, because, where orchestral music found its niche in Hollywood, evocation found a home in video games. The chief demons listed in the Goetia—the Goetic “demon kings”—star in games that are now household names. Baal, Azmodeus, and Belial all figure in Blizzard’s Diablo series, the most recent installment of which has sold 30 million copies to become the ninth best selling video game of all time. Twenty-two demons from the Lesser Key appear in the Final Fantasy franchise, which has branched out from video games to include television, film, and radio productions, in addition to comics and novelizations.

The Goetia presents techniques for summoning demons in order to command them, as King Solomon legendarily did to build his Temple. Another early modern grimoire (in which Crowley was also greatly interested), The Book of Abramelin the Mage, gives summoning instructions not in order to command demons, but to overcome and banish them so that the magician, cathartically freed of their influence, might draw nearer to God.

Game designers, like film directors and Aleister Crowley, are psychological adepts who work their magic by understanding just a little more than the average person does of what lurks in the recesses of every person’s mind. Perhaps quite unaware, millions of people who will never open the Goetia but who have started up their computers to summon its great demon kings to battle, have spent their time more profitably than we may have even thought... as what they have done is they've cornered, banished and slain their demon kings, in ways that others in real life have had to work far harder to do.

Part II

Video Bar