Friday, March 12, 2010

Still More Demonic Stuff II: Good, Evil, and Goetia

The Goetia discussion continues throughout the Blogsphere, and since comments I made have come up in a few posts, I thought I'd respond here.

On his blog Balthazar commented:
The idea that all Goetic spirits are inherently corrosive and non-human seems a bit heavy handed coming from a Vodou practitioner. The same allegations have been made about the Lwa, many of whom are quite dangerous and unpredictable in their own right - and have been demonized for that very reason - either by protestant or evangelical observers citing that as evidence of their inhuman, corrosive nature. Calling them demons. Are the Lwa in fact demons, or would it be more correct to say that some people are more skilled at handling them than others?

What's more is that the spirits of the Goetia are quite frequently forms of older pagan spirits who remained useful but because they didn't fit into the oppressive theological hegemony of the time were made into demons - because presumedly all pagan spirits must necessarily be demons. Sound familiar?
I find this comment interesting because I specifically avoided using the words "demon" and "evil" to describe the Goetic entities.  I agree with Balthazar that these terms obfuscate rather than clarify: they are generally used as shorthand for "other people's gods" and "things I don't agree with," respectively. If that wasn't clear enough in my first post, hopefully this will remove any confusion.

However, I will note that for centuries the Goetia has been considered the "Book of Evil Spirits." The person who first compiled this book considered them to be evil: the people who worked with this book considered them to be evil. I think it is worthwhile to question why they considered these spirits to be demonic while referring to other spirits as angelic. There are certainly many grimoires which teach you how to summon archangels, angels, planetary spirits and other entities which are not classified as "demons." Why did these magicians, who presumably had experience working with angelic magic, decide that the Goetic entities were "evil spirits" and "demonic?"  Writing that off as mere superstition and bigotry on their parts is an easy gloss over a difficult question.

There is a long tradition of the lwa being served as benevolent protectors. There is an equally long tradition that some lwa are not so benevolent and should be approached with caution.  I don't "demonize" Marinette Bwa Cheche or Linglessou Bassin-Sang (Linglessou Bucket-of-Blood) when I advise that they should only be petitioned by or with the aid of experienced practitioners, and only for a damned good reason.  They serve a vital role within the Vodou tradition, but they are still dangerous. Spiders and bacteria are an important part of the ecosystem, but I'm not going to snort anthrax spores or drop Black Widows down my shorts to prove my oneness with nature. 

Balthazar makes another, very interesting observation:
Demonic obsession gets mentioned a lot in this discussion. Well, I know a lot of people who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit - to the extent that the other day I had to deal with a DNS poisoning issue with this blog, which kept redirecting the URL to some evangelical ministries website, assumedly devised by some righteous holy hacker. I also had to deal with a spiritual attack from the self same bunch waged most likely with imprecatory prayer. Talk about obsession. Lord only knows why my little blog would provoke such an effort - I wasn't going to give them any air time, for fear of encouraging their bigoted shenanigans but it seems appropriate to mention. I am not going to even go into the religious nut-jobs who kill, beat and maim for Jesus. Is the Holy Spirit a corrosive, inhuman demon?
This is a very important point. If we are going to talk about Goetia (or possession work), we need to discuss the nature of obsession and oppression.  I will be discussing this in further detail in my next post: in the meantime I thank Balthazar for his input.  I am impressed by how this discussion has produced a lot of intelligent and informative material. While there are obviously disagreements among various practitioners, they have been presented politely and rationally: we may not all come to complete agreement but I think we can all learn something from each other.