Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Daemons of Space, Page One.

This essay is by no means even close to being finished. In fact, I'm putting it here so that people can tell me what it's missing (because I know it's not right somehow). That said, it should be finished and handed over to my friend Jay by mid-to-late April. (I'm hoping to grab two sigils/names from locations in England. Hopefully, I'll at least have one for the Tower of London. If we're lucky, I'll also have one for Glastonbury Tor.) As such, it'll probably be 'signed' and 'finished' there. 'Cuz, it looks a lot cooler to sign off, "Jack Faust. London, England. Beltaine, 2010." than to sign off: "Jack Faust. Sacramento, USA." Y'know.

Anyhow. Ahem. Here w go.

The Daemons of Space

The American and European Dreamtime

Writing in 410 CE or so, the Roman historian Macrobius was one of the last of his kind: an openly pagan author dedicated to writing about Rome's glorious past. One imagines that had they lived in the same era, Julian the Apostate would have appreciated him. Macrobius dedicates the third book of his Saturnalia to the methods and tactics of the formerly pagan Roman armies. In it he records a curious thing: when the armies of Rome marched upon foreign enemies, they did so with the belief that each city had a life-force of its own, an elemental or godlike reality. As such when they put a city under siege, they would have warrior-priests evoke the spirit and bid it to betray those inside its domain.i As Stephen Mace notes on this factor: “It is the last sentence of the conjuration – 'if ye shall so have done, I vow to you temples and solemn games' (p. 218) – that seems especially pertinent to combat magick, and even to elemental magick in general. The crux is that you're conjuring the spirit to take your part in a dispute with one of the other humans who inhabits its physical location. Helping you doesn't do it any good, and the strife may ultimately be to its detriment. So it seems reasonable to reward its favor with sacrifice. For the Romans this was a pact in the form of temples and solemn games. A modern magician may find that merely burning incense during a simple rite will be adequate.”ii

To further explain this it seems appropriate to begin discussion the linkages between thinking spatially about spirits, and how they seem to have existed in the Greek and Roman worlds. In general this essay is meant to be about a specific class of spirits that were thought to exist in the classical world called the “Genius Loci,” or quite literally the spirit of a place. Generally speaking this means that a geo-spatial dimension exists within the realm of spirit that coincides or sits directly next to our own dimension. While this thought pattern generally disappeared during Western Occultism's march forward (due to the transcendental bias that both the Christian and Neo-Platonic schools of thought offered, which was the dominant transcendental worldview in the west of the last two-thousand years), it still reoccurs in popular culture and is in fact a central facet in some avenues of witchcraft.

In his Supernatural Horror in Literature, H.P. Lovecraft notices the notion of the “shunned location” occurring at what he calls the Apex of the Gothic Romance.iii This motif reoccurs across the spectrum of American and European (especially the British and Welsh) literature. The haunted house, and popular interest in it, is a good example of this. By being the principle force on the location of a house, the spirit (or Lurker on the Threshold) is most assuredly also considered to be one of the Genius Loci. Likewise of significance in our communities are the places we choose to bury our dead; often places that seem holy, or “hollow:” filled with nothing but spirit (hallowed).

My comments here should not be seen as a condemnation, however. The Genius Loci are mentioned in many classic texts; Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1531-1533)iv discusses them, however I believe the works of Giordano Bruno (1584)v are lacking in the description and discourse on such a matter. Both are late authors, and both produced works which detailed the prevailing astrological model, not to mention discussed the Neo-Hermetic and Neo-Platonic schools of thought. Even in Agrippa, the Genius Loci play a low-key role, being mentioned here and there but never discussed fully in regard to the full extent of their magical purposes and utilities. Why is this?

There are several reasons for why the daemons (or Genius/Djinn) of Space play a minor role in the Renaissance and Medieval texts which come to mind. The first is that while the Greco-Roman world held that space might itself be sacred, Christian held a transcendental model of spiritual reality to be far more important and this became incorporated into society by replacing pagan temples, often believed to occupy “holy space,” with churches and consecrating the area in the name of Christ. (Thus to wash off the taint of the evil religions that came before them.) Places that might have once been deemed holy of their own accord came to be seen as only being holy because an angel visited there, or a Saint manifested one of their miracles at that location. The strangehold that Neo-Platonism placed on the occult arts (largely due to its utility) also encouraged this tendency; especially due to Neo-Platonic doctrines that insisted that matter itself was corrupt, whereas thought and mind (not to mention spirit) were pure. The last aspect to take into consideration is that around the 12th century Arabian magical texts were imported into Europe's occult underground,vi further bolstering the use of astrological sequences for magical operations. This last factor is perhaps one of the most pervasive elements in why the use of the Genius Loci in the west has been largely limited. By sequencing the entities one might conjure based on astrological bodies and sequential time, the text could be made use of just about anywhere. This utility should not be forgotten; a spirit who's principle power springs from its location is thus only effective in the direct area of that location and the places near to it. On the other had an entity who's power is manifest at specific points of time can be conjured and worked with anywhere. The primary reason for using the Gammars of Magick, rather than one's surrounding locales, is that where one uses the Grammar is largely immaterial.

Despite the above, it is nonetheless easy to also see the utility of working with the Genius Loci. Turning the space of one's house, for example, into a territory-protecting guardian seems more than worthwhile. Furthermore, the use of spirits that exist as manifestations of space did not entirely end as I seem to be implying. The pervasive folklore of a witch having contact with beings that existed just outside the borderland of mundane space (particularly fairies), not to mention the recurrent popular culture motifs of haunted houses, shunned locales, and other such structures shows that there have always been those who are aware that they share the space they inhabit with something else.

A good example of this is the tradition of refusing to have both one's front door and back door directly lead to one another in European folklore. This was caused by the belief that the hordes of the Good Folk were barred by walls, but could make use of doors directly linked in such a manner. Rather than having those damned fairies parading around their houses in the middle of the night, the British instead seem to have decided to simply stop putting doors facing one another in their homes. Incidentally, there seems to be a link here to the Roman god Janus, who was the Lord of Doorways. Specifically, his temple spaces were always designated by having one door facing the other, so that his presence could be fully manifested within the temple structure (in the case of his primary temple, his idol sat directly between the two primary gates).

i Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius, The Saturnalia (trans. By Percival Vaughan Davies), Columbia University Press, New York & London, 1969.

ii Stephen Mace, Taking Power, New Falcon Publications, 2005.

vi Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages, Cambridge Medieval Textbooks, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

1 comment:

Lance Michael Foster said...

Excellent, I'd love to hear more about your thoughts in this direction. I am an archaeologist and landscape historian