In my book Elemental Powers for Witches, I have seemingly merged energies and spirits together in my approach to working with elemental powers. Some might find this strange and even a bit exotic, but there is a reason for approaching an energy working using both the qualities of energies and also spirits. It is really a matter of complexity versus simplicity. In the real world in which we live, everything is always more complex than we might initially suppose. Gender, once perceived as binary, is actually more complex. The ethical division of values into either good or evil is an over simplification, since the world doesn't seem to comply with that kind of binary perspective. The same is true for much of what we have learned and seem to know.
This problem of complexity can also be found in the occult and in magic in general. We typically approach magic using models and tables of correspondences that are useful, but represent over-simplifications of what is a very complex and nearly indescribable reality. The conscious view of the world of magic, spirit, and magical powers will often use symbolic metaphors as tools to describe and manipulate psychic events; but, as useful as these tools are, they are not to be confused with what they are describing or emulating. The model or metaphor is not the actual phenomenon. It is a method of describing the indescribable. That means that the revelation of truth, or what is behind everything within the guise of magic is hidden in plain sight—it is the inexplicable experience of magic itself.
Accurately describing the experiences that one undergoes within a magical working can only be accomplished using symbolic metaphors. We describe magical experiences as being like something or use a term that we know and seemingly understand. The same thing could be said about other kinds of experiences, such as love, religious visions, and the insights of genius. We are left with art and poetry to accurately describe the nature of these experiences, and even these are beyond the domain of words and semantic meaning.
Therefore, it shouldn't be too surprising if we find that the ordered and structured paradigm of magical energy also includes spirits and even places. Energy, as defined in magic, is not a simple "energy" as we would expect to find in the scientific definition of energy. Certainly, magical power is not a category within the electro-magnetic spectrum. It is a metaphor and the energy model of magic is also a metaphor. Like all symbolic metaphors, they are not restricted to just one set of phenomena; they can also be compared to other qualities as well. A metaphor and a model are actually quite flexible because they refer to an experience that is very complex and not reducible to a simple set of qualities. Magic is ruled by the mutable power of metaphor, but our perception of it is also limited by the same.
This is especially true in the study of magic. The reality of magical energy, as defined by both modern and traditional occult concepts, must include qualities of energy (metaphors of electricity and magnetism), animal totems (four elemental creatures), spirits associated with the four directions (four winds, four seasons, and their associated archetypal deities, etc.), four Elemental Kings, various elemental deities, and the events of universal creation and dissolution (cosmogonic cycle). There are even four archetypal elemental domains or locations such as the sky, waters, surface of the earth, and the fire of the underworld (volcanos). All these things are qualities and associations of the four elemental powers. Elemental powers are, therefore, not just simple energies but represent a whole array of qualities and correspondences. They are complex, merging qualities, spirits, deities, and domains into a vast array of four basic elements.
The simplicity of the four element powers and their complex grouping of qualities can also be used to develop more complex qualities, such as the 16 elementals and the 40 qualified powers. As I state in Elemental Powers for Witches, the number 4 is the foundation for a whole collection of different attributes. In addition to the elementals and the qualified powers, there are also the 12 signs of the zodiac (triplicity and element), the 36 decans (planet and zodiacal sign), the 28 talismanic elementals (planet and element), and the 256 binary elementals. The list of derivations is nearly endless, but the inherent complexity limits how far one can go with this expansion of the basic four elements. Still, each of these attributes has certain qualities that makes it useful in magical practice and ultimately, in my opinion, essential.
When summoning the symbolic qualities of an attribute of the four elements, I believe that it is the optimal approach to give it a name and an overall personality. That is where I have discovered the whole notion of using the names of spirits to define magical powers. You can devise and use any set of names, even ones wholly made up and meaningful only to you. However, using spirit names that are part of a magical tradition will anchor your magical work by giving it a context and levels of meaning that it might not ordinarily possess if you used made-up names. If we understand that a spirit name attribute applied to an element quality, such as an elemental or a qualified power, represents a whole array of correspondences and qualities that are simplified through the use of a single name, then we can see the genius of using this approach. You can think of it in this manner: to summon an elemental, then use a single spirit name to encapsulate a whole array of qualities. It is simple and elegant.
While there are many traditional and grimoire-based lists of various spirits, I have focused on those lists whose quantity match the number of element attributes that I want to characterize. For instance, there are 16 elementals, so I would want a list of 16 spirits that I could use to characterize the 16 elementals. This handy approach has already been done for us regarding the 16 god-name pairs as found in the Enochian system of magic. However, I felt that finding another set of spirits not associated with Enochian magic would be a good approach to use in my magical workings. I never like being dependent on just one way of doing things, which makes me somewhat different than the average Witch or ritual magician.
Therefore, having in my resources a list of 16 spirits in the collection of Theurgia-Goetia (an early Renaissance grimoire) known as the Grand Dukes (there are a total of 79 spirits listed in this book), I decided to apply them to my list of 16 elemental qualities. However, there wasn't any such organization to these list of spirit names, so I had to rely on trance techniques to briefly contact each one of these spirits and determine their associated elemental quality. Later magical workings confirmed that these spirits match up with the elemental correspondences, but that could also be because I had organized them as such. My expectations may have made this match work, but that is the way that magic functions. It allows for much experimentation and the creation of hybrid associations and constructions. The basic rule of thumb in magic is that if it works then it must be true, even though the mystery of why it works might never be determined.
Now, these 16 Grand Duke spirits of the Theurgia-Goetia were, as based on their historical precedence, wind demons associated with a specific compass point or direction. In the grimoire they are described as a collection of spirits, some that are inherently evil, some good, and others, neutral. Of course, there are no specific qualities defined that would allow the operator to differentiate whether they are good, bad, or indifferent, and one might have to extrapolate that the qualities of the winds of the sixteen directions would be dependent on one's geographic location. That kind of variable would indicate that some of the directional winds have a propensity for causing storms and damage while others would be benign or ineffective.
It seemed to me that the qualities of these spirits, as defined, were arbitrary, and like the wind, they could be destructive or beneficial. I felt that it is really the motive and objective of the magician that would determine the effect of any one of these spirits, so whether they should be classified as either good or bad, seemed to me to be too simple. This would also imply that because they are classified as demons any ethical Witch should avoid them or that the classification of either good or evil just doesn't apply to any spirits in general. I have found the latter to be true, and as a practicing Witch, I have evolved my beliefs and perspectives about spirits. Spirits can be hot, cold, or neutral. They can be passionate, thoughtful, or indifferent. What they can do in the material world is based on a combination of their nature and our magical intention.
Demons, or my preferred name for them, daimons, are spirits that are close to the earth whether arial, earthy, or infernal (dwellers of the underworld), and I have found that such spirits are best employed on material matters. If we, as Witches, do not subscribe to the Christian definition of reality (even though we have to live in a Christianized world), then we should approach spirits as individuals and judge our experience of them accordingly. The whole dichotomy of good and evil regarding spirits is far too simple of a paradigm to be useful. Therefore, we can approach the grimoire-based magic and their associated list of spirits with an open mind and a neutral disposition, basing our judgements solely on our own magical experiences.
This is the reason why I chose the 16 Grand Dukes to represent the Elemental Spirits in my book Elemental Powers for Witches and why I thought that doing so was a good approach to working this kind of magic in a Witchcraft setting. It is also why I believe that using a spirit characterization to represent an element-based energy is an optimal use of magical metaphors. Things are always more complex than they might seem, and as we evolve in our practice, we discover that there are new ways of working magic, projecting elemental energies and engaging with our spiritual hierarchy and the Goddesses and Gods of Witchcraft. We must endeavor to be flexible, open and willing to experiment in order to emulate the very protean nature of magic itself, and to keep our pledge to the Gods to progress and grow in our knowledge and wisdom.
Frater Barrabbas (Richmond, VA) is a practicing ritual magician who has studied magick and the occult for over thirty-five years. He is the founder of a magical order called the Order of the Gnostic Star and he is an elder ...