“The Single Supreme Ritual is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel... Any deviation from this line tends to become black magic. Any other operation is black magic.”
- Aleister Crowley, Book Four (Part III, Chapter 21)
Recently, I discussed the Headless One ritual (see Notes on the Stele of Jeu) a bit. As such a friend went out and tried it and reported feeling “weird.” Which, I responded, was about on par with how one feels after the first round of doing the ritual. But I felt that there was a bit more to say in regards to the Agathos-Daemon and the Holy Guardian Angel, and a few things in between.
The words 'Daemon' and 'Genius' quite literally meant spirit in the ancient world. Today, the term daemon is enshrined in the English word demon (which indicates a “bad” spirit to most people), and genius simply means someone that is brilliant in terms of intelligence. The latter came to apply to the modern individual's lexicon due to the awe high intelligence evoked in others, and most people don't spend much time thinking about either. When most people say the word “genius,” they rarely consider that they're describing an individual who has an almost preternatural intelligence or spirit that guides and aids them. Likewise: very few people understand the different between a daemon (spirit) and a demon (evil spirit) and how it came to pass that the term essentially became interchangeable.
When the Greeks discussed Daemons, they were often referring to spirits that existed in their own world, but a world that sat side by side with our own. It is this that I mean when I refer to ideas like a daemonic level of reality. In the classical world everything had a daemon or guiding intelligence attached to it which could, if one knew how, aid and abet the happenstance of everyday life. Every plant, animal, rock, person, ocean and mountain had an intelligence in the spirit world that governed it.
When discussing his own Daemon, Plato called it “Genius.” I want to make a point that is a very shocking difference from how this factor is often discussed in college classes: Plato meant he had a very literal spirit which whispered in his ears and aided him in his attempts to understand the world around him. He was not, as one Professor tried and failed to convince me, calling himself smart. He didn't need to. Instead he was paying due reverence to a friend and ally. It is most likely from this that the Romans adopted the use of the term Genius.
By the fall of the Roman Empire (440 CE or so), the Mystery Schools had fallen into disrepair. It was during this period, after Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 319 CE, that they made a few of the gambits which would in the end destroy their standing within the Empire. One of these was returning to the old way of literal living sacrifices to their gods. By 430 CE numerous reports appear of the Mystery Schools of Magna Mater (“The Great Mother”), Isis, Hecate, not to mention Mithras (“The Light of the World”) and Sol Invictus (“the Unconquerable Sun”), had resorted to living sacrifice. We have engraved plates showing exactly the sort of initiation one might have faced: a living bull would have it's head ripped off with a sword designed just for this sort of sacrifice, and then the head would be lifted above the initiate. Blood and ichor would 'baptize' the initiate of the would-be mystery school, and they were advised to open their mouths and tilt their head upwards so that if the 'life-blood' of the beast wished to enter their lips, to be gulped down, then it could.
Meanwhile, Christianity was making more headway than the Mystery Schools that would oppose them. For almost 100 years after Constantine made Christianity the major religion of Rome the newly enshrined Catholic Church worked hard to place itself on solid footing. It wasn't a very easy task: they faced the Arians, who while Christians, had been declared heretics to the Church at the First Council of Nicea. The disciples of Arius were everywhere, and so the pagans were generally ignored most of the time during this period. If they did notice the pagans, they seem to have been content to blaspheme their gods: such as when the wife of Stilicho entered the temple of Magna Mater, with the Roman Emperor, and took the Goddess' necklace, which had sat on the altar for hundreds of years, from its idol.
Still: certain blows were struck, which most likely were never even intended to be blows. In 385-87 CE, Ambrose of Milan found himself in a rather tight spot. He'd opposed the Arians extensively in his career before the event I'm about to describe, but he couldn't have imagined that an Arian Roman Emperor would sit on the throne during his own time. Facing strict opposition, and having been ordered to leave Milan, he managed the impossible. Roman troops had sat outside his church's door for months, waiting to expel the anti-Arian Bishop should they get the chance. Ambrose claimed he came across a pair of 'early Christian' martyrs. The red bones were brought out to be displayed to the faithful, and while the procession was under way a blind man stumbled over and brushed the tattered clothing that was left on the ocher painted bones. He immediately claimed he could see again. In the wake of this event, two things happened...
First: the Emperor no longer had the support of the populace to remove Ambrose from Milan, and so the Roman troops withdrew from where they'd camped before Ambrose's church.
Second: within months, all over the Roman hillsides, small 'shrines' were found with 'Christian martyrs' and all manner of reverence began to be paid by the farming and lower-class populace of Rome to these places. This displaced the pagan practice of working with the Genius Loci, as there was now a 'Christianized' form of the same practice introduced across a broad spectrum of Europe.
So... Who were Ambrose's martyrs? If they were indeed painted in Red Ocher, I'd suspect that they were probably some form of Germanic dignitaries. I say this because the tribes beyond the Rhine often used ocher in their own burials. But I cannot say anything for sure. They most assuredly were not Christians, however. And so we have the Genius Loci evenly displaced from popular conception (except where the learned would later read about them) by 487 CE. The rest were, really, only a matter of time after that.
Above the daemon level of reality was the Agathos-Daemon, or Good Daemon. While other daemons were more or less natural and might very well ignore an individual, it was the Agathos-Daemon's role to aid and abet them directly as a personal companion. It is this mythological being that is the basis of the Holy Guardian Angel insofar as most modern practitioners of magick might be concerned. By 532 CE, Psuedo-Dionysius (or someone claiming to be him) had already wedded the idea (while completely ignoring any Pagan origins whatsoever) to that of a Guardian Angel.
But here's the problem: the Agathos-Daemon was a singular being. Once one had made friends with it, they would always have it as a friend. It was a constant, singular force. The Guardian Angel, on the other hand, is a specific type of entity. Not a central figure, but rather one which was attached by the 'Christian God' to an individual at birth. You need not do anything to gain its influence, unlike the Good Daemon.
So: do we all have the same HGA, or do we each have our own? If you ever want to drive a Ceremonial Magician utterly insane, bring up what I just said above and watch them sputter about trying to explain what they think to you. It really is quite funny! The actual answer is: it doesn't matter. They both provide the same level of influence and knowledge.
So why do I stick by the Agathos-Daemon versus the Holy Guardian Angel? Because of how The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage ends. After gaining their HGA the magician then turns his baleful eyes towards Hell. And, with his new found companion and the rock of his spiritual strength, he descends into Hell in an inferno of destruction.
I, um, have no desire to do that. If you do: well, hey. It's traditional. But I have better things to do with my time than nuke Hell with my HGA. And the Agathos-Daemon doesn't always seem to be down with it, either. At least in my experience.
How does one acquire the Agathos-Daemon as a companion? Well, Betz's tome has two rituals for such a thing. One is the Headless One ritual. The other is the very first ritual in the book and involves shaving all the hair off one's body and setting a table for two. You then perform a lengthy rituals, sit down and feast with your daemon. (Who, I suppose, turns up for some chow.)
The second is the Headless One Ritual. One is certainly invoking the Agathos-Daemon, as I've noted before. However it makes no mention of whether or not it might have assented to being one's companion. But not to worry!
For this we have an entire book by Morton Smith devoted to nothing less than what is involved with the process. The Headless One ritual would be prepared as usual. And afterward, the practitioner would 'await a sign from the gods'. The book is titled Jesus the Magician and I believe it just re-entered print. One of the things Smith does is compare side by side the Headless One and the claims of Christ in the New Testament. He devotes a ton of attention to the omenic sign that would mean one has become the son of a god.
Since I've written a ton so far and people generally dislike my huge entries, I shall end this one here with a small note: take a walk after doing the Headless Ritual. You may be surprised by what happens...
A dove may fly down from the sky, and you may then discourse with it knowing that a god has chosen you as their son or daughter. Stranger things have happened, no?