Aaron Leitch is the author of Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires: The Classical Texts of Magick Deciphered a book that should interest all students of grimoire and ceremonial magick, as well as related practices. You can find out more about Aaron by visiting his website: http://kheph777.tripod.com
“Aaron Leitch has been a scholar and spiritual seeker for nearly two decades. His explorations have taken him into many fascinating areas of human spirituality, their history and their modern practice. His writings (both in print and on the web) cover such varied fields as Middle Eastern Religion and Mythology, Shamanism, Neoplatonism, Hermeticism and Alchemy, Traditional Wicca and Neopaganism, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema, Angelology, Qabalah, Enochiana, African Diaspora Religions, Pow-wow and Hoodoo folk traditions, Psychology and Consciousness Expansion, Cyberspace, Modern Social Commentary, and several student resources. His most recent project is Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, released by Llewellyn Worldwide in October 2005.”
Interview by Sorita D’Este; Interview Date: January 2007
(c) Avalonia & Aaron Leitch 2007.
All rights reserved, please do not reproduce this article without the written permission of the author(s). You are welcome to share this interview with friends by linking to this page.
Without further ado….
[Avalonia: Aaron Leitch, with his fiance Carrie.]
Sorita: Aaron, you were obviously magickally active in your teens, what was your first experience of ritual within a group context and how did it affect you?
Aaron: I have been magickally active since I was about 15. However, my earliest years were very solitary. I knew a few others who were interested in occult subjects – but none of us had any direction or the slightest clue what books to read, etc. We were sub-urbanite kids whose closest encounter with real occultism was probably the Ouija board! On my own, I was developing a kind of intuitive image-magick (or talismanic magick), and checking out any occult-related book I could find from the public library.
I didn’t encounter real occultists until I struck out on my own for the first time at 18- drawn to the Larkspur Renaissance Faire (just south of Denver, Colorado). I joined the Faire as a stage magician, and soon discovered that it was pretty much the heart of the Denver Pagan community. It was there I embraced Neopaganism, fell in with a group of fellow Witches and moved to Denver. Thus, my first group ritual experiences were among “non-denominational” Wiccans and Neopagans in the campsite behind the Larkspur Faire, and a few within the Faire site itself! Then, of course, I attended or participated in all sorts of rituals around Denver for the months I lived there. It was many years before I found another community of occultists that were as sincere and “real” as the bulk of the Denver Pagan community!
How did it affect me? Wow! It was literally the starting-point of my entire life. It was not only my coming-of-age experience, but also the initiation of my mystical quest. It shaped my view of the world, and it is the very time and place where I decided to do exactly what I do today.
Sorita : Who would you say have been the biggest influences on your magickal development and why?
Aaron: Now that question is a bit hard to answer! There have been so many people that have influenced me along my path- I could probably write a book about that subject alone! Should it start with those few people among my friends and family who rebelled against the typical Southern Christian mould and taught me that there IS a mystical side to the universe? My mother chose to embrace her psychic gifts, and regularly strove to produce New Testament-style miracles. My father, a strict atheist, even taught me to accept mathematical infinity- meaning the Universe has no true beginning or end, and all things are possible in that infinity. (We were camping in the mountains at the time – debating whether or not the Big Bang was really the “beginning” of the Universe.)
Then, of course, there are those folks in Denver. I admit that what I do today does not draw a lot from Neopaganism- but I wouldn’t change my origins in the hip 90s Neopagan movement (just a heartbeat before it was co-opted by the mass media. There was no “The Craft” or “Charmed” or “Buffy” when I was in Denver!). It was also one of my brothers there that handed me my first copy of “Modern Magick” by Donald Michael Kraig – which truly launched me on my magickal path.
And that, of course, brings me to all of the incredible authors that have influenced me. Don Kraig is first and foremost as my magickal “fore parent.” Then there were Israel Regardie, Chic and Tabatha Cicero, Stuart Myers and others. Some of these folks I’ve even had the incredible fortune of knowing personally, and they’ve taught me a heck of a lot! After them, of course, have to come the authors of the classical grimoires – such as Agrippa, Dee, and the hundreds of unknown scribes who preserved the occult secrets I practice today! There are also Robert Heinlein, Robert Anton Wilson, Douglas Rushkoff and a host of other authors that have shaped my world-view over the years.
And finally, I should also mention that there are a few secret adepts in my life – who have been working for a *very* long time, but have produced no writings, have no official associations and whose names you would not know. Yet, they have a profound affect on the people with whom they come into contact. I have learned vast amounts of knowledge thanks to their years of experience.
Aaron Leitch – Author of the “Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires”Sorita : You say that you feel the grimoires reflect a survival of shamanism in medieval Europe? Beyond the parallels you draw with non-European traditions, what evidence do you feel there is for this conclusion?
Aaron: My first clue to the shamanic nature of the grimoires was certainly thanks to the parallels they shared with such traditions as the Afro-Caribbean religions, American Powwow and Hoodoo folk traditions, etc. As I continued my research, I found examples of grimoire-style practices in shamanic cultures around the world. (Keep in mind I’m using the term “shamanism” in its purely generic, anthropological sense.) Those are the parallels you mentioned in your question. However, all of those parallels are just illustrations of the basic premise. What is most important is to arrive at a workable definition of “shamanism”, and then see if that definition applies to the material recorded in the European grimoires.
First, what does an anthropologist mean when he or she describes a practice as “shamanic”? I looked into the work of several authorities on the subject – scholars like Mircea Eliade, James Davila, and even modern shamans like Jim DeKorn and Robert Anton Wilson (just to name a few). What I found wasn’t so much a cohesive definition of “shamanism’ as much as a list of practices that *collectively* make a tradition shamanic. Shamans engage in trance visions (involving celestial flights, journeys into the underworld, etc). They employ spirit familiars. They perform direct (face-to-face) intercessions with the Gods on behalf of their tribe/community. Plus they perform very specific social roles – such as presiding over the various passages of life (birth, coming of age, death and more), casting out demons and curing sickness. While priests can sometimes fulfill these same social roles, the shaman never works under the authority of an organized temple priesthood. In fact, where the priest is generally educated in his art in a university-style setting, the shaman most often learns his art directly from his spiritual Patrons and familiars.
Finally, does all of this apply to the Solomonic grimoires? I believe it does! As I illustrate in “Secrets…”, there are plenty of grimoiric spells to create visions, open gateways into other realms, etc. There is no question that the grimoires teach the summoning of spirit familiars and guardian Angels who can teach the aspirant all kinds of magickal secrets. Plus, a review of medieval records shows that the grimoiric mages did indeed fulfill many of the social roles of the shaman- performing spells for love, protection, finding lost items, exorcising spirits, etc. It is true that many of them were employed in some manner by the Church – but what we see in their grimoires were practices most definitely *not* sanctioned by the Church authorities. These “clerical shamans” were, in fact, the very first victims of the infamous Inquisitions.
Sorita: In “Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires” you cover most of the themes in that corpus of material clearly and concisely. Was there any particular reason why you left out the Olympic Spirits?
Aaron: Yes there is indeed a reason. Though it isn’t really a reason why I *excluded* the Olympic Spirits, so much as a specific reason I *included* those Angels I did. As I wrote “Secrets…” I kept an eye toward what I intended to write in my later work on Dee’s magickal system. In that sense, “Secrets…” will serve as a primer for the more advanced Enochian work. If you take a close look at the Angels listed (in “grimoire fashion”) in chapter eight, you’ll find that most of them are found in Dee’s Enochian magick.
The only exception to that are the seven Planetary Intelligences. I included them because I have personally worked with some of them (mainly Iophiel and Tiriel). These Angels are great to work with, especially for beginners in the Art. Plus, They are necessary to work with the Planetary Spirits I list in chapter twelve.
I should also add that the Intelligences and the Olympic Spirits are very similar creatures. As are the Planetary Angels (Sabathiel, Zedekiel, etc) and even Dee’s Heptarchic Royalty.
Sorita: You explore the relevance of the concepts of mental circuitry espoused by Leary and developed by Robert Anton Wilson in your book. Do you feel the scientific approach of mental circuitry represents an attitude that is lacking in modern magick?
Aaron: I don’t think that it is “lacking” in the sense that it isn’t available. If you look into the Thelemic community, they are very aware of the consciousness expansion movement- as embodied by folks like Wilson and Leary. However, I do believe that material has had a limited penetration into the Neopagan, Golden Dawn and other magickal communities. That is why I included such a detailed presentation of the Eight Circuits of Consciousness, the process of Sensory Deprivation, the ritual use of psychotropics, etc. in “Secrets…” – because I knew my book would have an appeal across many community boundaries, and it would be the first introduction to those concepts for many non-Thelemic readers. (Meanwhile, the Thelemites surely are thrilled to see it there!)
However, while we are on this subject, I should also point out that I do *not* agree with the “psychology as magick” mindset! The study of the human mind is certainly indispensable to the magickal path – it is as important as an engine is to a car. Yet, psychology is no more “magick” than an engine is “a car.” (That’s why I put the psychology in “Secrets…” in the first part- the theoretical material, but did not mention it in the second part- the practical material.)
To put it simply, I accept Robert Heinlein’s concept that “Reality as Myth” is as valid a world view as “Reality as Science.” In fact, I go one further and suggest that each one compliments the other. (If you’ve read Francis Yates’ “Rosicrucian Enlightenment”, you’ll have an idea what I’m getting at.)
Sorita : Is there a particular grimoire that you prefer to the others? What is it and why is this the case?
Aaron: You bet! There is only one grimoire I have worked completely all the way through, and I continue to practice it as my primary system to this very day: the Book of Abramelin. That grimoire preserves in the Western Mystery Tradition the universal formula of Priesthood Initiation. It is found in different forms in all cultures that produce either shamans or priests (in other words- all cultures!). It is the foundation of everything I do today.
Of course, I also work a lot of “generic” Solomonic magick- as you can see in the second half of the Key of Solomon the King, or in the second half of “Secrets…” (I mainly work with the Seven Archangels- Cassiel, Sachiel and that lot. You can read two separate evocations of the Archangel Michael on my MySpace Blog.) Plus I’m working on putting together a full set of Enochian tools and furniture *exactly* as the Angels instruct in Dee’s records. Yet, even when I do this kind of work, I begin by going into my Oratory and invoking my Holy Guardian Angel first.
Sorita : You are involved with the online Hermetic Sanctuary of Ma’at within the Stella Matutina. What are the main differences between the work of this order and the other online Golden Dawn variants around today?
Aaron: Most of the online Golden Dawn schools – and even most of the physical ones!- have created their own unique versions of the Golden Dawn system. And that’s just great, because it allows aspirants a choice between different philosophies and approaches, so they can find what works best for them. The Sanctuary of Ma’at is unique in its own right, because we chose to pick up the very same Stella Matutina tradition published by Israel Regardie and expanded by Chic and Tabatha Cicero. (Their book “Self Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition” serves as our primary text book.) Thus, what we offer is the Traditional GD approach.
Of course, keep in mind that the Sanctuary of Ma’at is just an online school. Students advance by taking tests, and performing either Self-Initiation ceremonies at home or finding others to perform full group Rites. However, it does not give any kind of official lineage or membership in a physical Order. The Sanctuary of Ma’at is, in fact, run by a very real-world Order that has taken the name “Stella Matutina.” Members of the Sanctuary of Ma’at are not required to join the Stella Matutina, but are invited to do so. (They have to begin again in Neophyte and take the official Temple initiations, in person, but their tests are waived.)
You can learn more about the Ordo Stella Matutina and the Sanctuary of Ma’at at http://www.ritual-magic.com
Sorita : You have made a lot of detailed material available online. Will we be seeing more of this material converted into books in the future?
Aaron: Without a doubt! I have plans for books on Abramelin, Enochian Magick, the Angelical Language, the modern Solomonic tradition and more – and you can see many of my ideas in their primordial forms in the essays at my homepage.
Sorita : Your article “The Ancient Gods & Neo-Paganism” contains more sense than most books on the subject. Have there been specific experiences which have led you to this lucidity, or has it arisen more through prolonged practice? [Click here for the article]
Aaron: First, I have to say “thanks!” for the positive words about my article! It’s one of my earliest pieces, and I’m glad that it still stands today. As for your question:
I would say it was a lot of both! My world view really began to change once I met the Santero who publishes as Ocha Ni’lele.” He was the first person- whom I found credible as a wizard- who introduced me to the “non-psychological” view of magick. Before that, I had been convinced that magick was “all in the head”, and that the Angels and spirits we work with are just aspects of our psyches. Ocha Ni’lele expanded my awareness beyond that viewpoint- and I came to realize that a literal belief in the Gods and magick was foundational to most pre-modern magickal systems. (My essay “Ancient Gods…” was written about this time.) What truly hooked me was the discovery that my talks with the Santero were opening my eyes to obscure texts like Agrippa’s “Occult Philosophy”, the “Book of Abramelin”, the “Key of Solomon” and other grimoires.
I had, of course, been striving to understand and work with the grimoires for years. This new world view suddenly gave me the key to comprehending the “incomprehensible” texts. The magickal methods were based on the unspoken assumption that the Angels and spirits are literally real- such as giving offerings in payment, making the tools out of specific materials, observing the ritual purifications and prayers, etc. In psychology-based magickal theory, the tools are just props. In the Solomonic tradition, the tools are a major part of the interface between man and spirit – they are part of its shamanic core. (Take a look at the construction of the Holy Water Sprinkler, for example- as explained in chapter six of “Secrets…”)
I also have to admit I had had experiences in my early magickal practice- cases where a God or Angel seemed to reach right down and touch me in some way. One of my Patron Gods is the Egyptian Horus, and He let me know that quite distinctly. My Pagan name of “Khephera” was given to me by the God of the same name. Even earlier than that- as I was still learning the ritual known as the “Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram”- I experienced the Archangel Michael move about and act on His own. There were other such experiences that, I would suppose, opened me up to the revelations I would have when I later encountered Santeria and finally grasped the “secrets of the grimoires.”
Sorita : You raise some interesting points in your article “The Magick of Abramelin”. Have you performed this operation and if so how relevant do you feel it is today?
Aaron: Well, I guess I’ve already answered most of this! Yes, I performed the Abramelin Rite (the French version- as the German original was something of a myth at the time!). The picture I use on my Myspace profile was taken about a month after I performed the Rite – and those are the Abramelin Robes you see. There are further pictures in the photos section of my Solomonic Yahoo Group – such as the Altar, the Oratory, the Tools, etc.
As I said before, the Abramelin Rite is one manifestation of the universal formula for initiating a new Priest, Shaman or Prophet. It is foundational all the way to the core of human civilization- encoded in our very DNA. And, among the Western Mystery Tradition, it is the only book of its kind. Thus, it is “our” version of that universal formula. I believe every single aspect of “shamanism” I outlined previously is covered in some way in the Book of Abramelin.
Not only is it relevant today, it is vitally needed! The 21st Century is wide open in the magickal- or Aeonic- sense. We need shamans and priests for the new millennium, as many as we can get and as fast as we can get them! Otherwise, other people with their own greedy agendas will establish the new spiritual trends…
And, believe me, the idea that Abramelin is impossible in the modern world is a fantasy! The six-month version, especially, is much easier (that is, less complex and involved) than what a Santerian aspirant goes through to be crowned a Santo. The Santerian initiate has a much wider social support system, but Abramelin is simplified in comparison. So it is not impossible – just not “easy.” Unfortunately, the claim that something is “not possible in today’s world” is all too often an out for the armchair magician. I hope my books- from “Secrets….” to my work on Abramelin and Enochian magick- will help to dispel that myth.
Sorita : Your forthcoming work “The Angelical Language” looks to be far more comprehensive and practical than previous published works on the Enochian tongue. Could you explain the process that led you to write this work and its scope?
Aaron: To begin with, I guess I have a natural interest in linguistics and etymology. I was never a fan of what we would call “English class” in school – but I’ve always been fascinated by the view of language as a living, ever-changing thing. (Which also explains my interest in the Qabalah.) So I suppose the pump was primed, you might say.
However, I have to credit the project’s initiation to Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land.” As you likely know, that is a story about Michael Smith- the sole survivor of a spaceship crash on Mars, who was subsequently raised by native Martians. When a later expedition discovered the fully-grown man on Mars, they brought him back to Earth- where he displayed a natural ability to perform a variety of physics-defying miracles. He claimed anyone could do these things if they just knew how- but when asked, he said he could only explain in Martian. The rest of the book depicts the rise of a school/church wherein Michael teaches aspirants the Martian language, and then uses it to teach them how to alter reality.
You may also know that some folks put together a real-world organization, based on Heinlein’s descriptions of the “Church of All Worlds” in “Stranger…” However, since there is no Martian language to learn, the real Church of All Worlds had to adopt another language that- once learned (or “grokked”)- would allow one to perform miracles. The language they chose was Magick.
It was with all of this in mind that I read “Stranger…” for the first time (in my very early 20s). As I read about Michael Smith teaching his students the concepts of Martian, I had one of those rare experiences of the Angels reaching right down and touching me. The message was simple: “Learn fluently as much of Our Language as we have already given you, and We will give you more.” In that instant I knew I had to learn each and every scrap of information about the Angelical Language recorded in the bulk of Dee’s diaries.
Aaron Leitch and his fiance, CarrieFurthermore, I needed to discover if “the Enochian Language stands up to grammatical analysis.” While nearly every text on the Language makes this claim, none of them actually present or point to any such analysis. Therefore, I was going to have to do it myself… My goal was to be able to pray, invoke and speak to Angels and spirits fluently in the Angelical Tongue.
I won’t go into my entire process of analysis here – it is outlined in the introduction to the upcoming book(s). However, what transpired was a ten year(!) project that resulted in: a complete grammatical analysis of Dee’s Angelical Language, an Encyclopedic Lexicon containing every Angelical word found throughout Dee’s journals (including all of his marginal notations, pronunciation notes, and new commentary from myself), many previously-undiscovered root words and word-elements, a new easy-to-understand pronunciation key (based entirely on Dee’s pronunciation notes), a fully corrected version of the 48 Angelical Keys (in both a numerical cross-reference version *and* what I call an “Angelical Psalter” for use in ceremony), PLUS the saga of the reception of the Language by Dee and Kelley and every scrap of information the Angels gave about the Language and its proper use. (This includes a massive exploration of Dee’s “Book of Enoch” – also called the “Book of Loagaeth”, or “Speech from God”- which is the source of the Angelical Tongue).
To top it all off, I have also created stand-alone essays concerning how to use Angelical in Agrippa-style occultism, how to properly pronounce the Language and even a 14-lesson Grammar Course that will take the student from the basic principles of the Language all the way to translating English texts into Angelical.
Having created all of these resources for my own education (I’m still learning the Language!), I also wish to release them to the public. Dee’s Angelical fits the bill as the “Mystery Language of the West”, and its influence on our modern systems of magick has been profound. I hope to help revive the Language in its original form, and help establish it as a significant Sacred Tongue in our magickal culture.
Sorita : What advice would you give to someone who is new to magickal practice, who is wanting to explore Enochian and Grimoire related practices?
Aaron: I think the beginner would do best to start out with something like Don Kraig’s “Modern Magick” or the Cicero’s “Self Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition.” If not those, then go with some other established initiatory system- like the degrees of Thelema, or those of Traditional Wicca. The point is that you should have some magickal grounding and initiatory spiritual growth before getting into these powerful systems. Even the authors of the grimoires were often members of secret esoteric societies, or had attained certain offices or Orders within the Church.
Now, let me qualify that just a bit: I would not say you absolutely *have* to begin with a Golden Dawn or similar system before touching the grimoires. I believe a beginner could work through the progressive system I outline in “Secrets…” and eventually develop a successful Solomonic practice. However, keep in mind that this is old and powerful magick, and it simply can’t hurt to have something solid to fall back upon. The corpus of Golden Dawn related material- with such useful tools as the LBRP- is a great foundation.
However- I must also warn students- especially those who come from such Western initiatory traditions- to leave their assumptions behind when they come to Enochian or Solomonic magick. Again, remember that these systems represent the “Old Magick”, and it doesn’t work upon the philosophies of Golden Dawn or Wiccan ceremony! Now, folks who come at the grimoires from systems like Santeria, Hoodoo and other shamanic/folk traditions (even the real fam-trad Witches) have little problem grokking the Solomonic methods. But, Western aspirants often bring the wrong basic assumptions into the magick. (I once had a Hermetic practitioner tell me that Santerian workers were “crazy” because they don’t start their work with an LBRP! That kind of attitude will only keep the grimoires closed to you! As they say “Let he who hath eyes see!”)
Sorita: Is there anything else you would like to share about thoughts you haven’t already discussed or exciting new projects?
Aaron: Whew! I think that about covers it! Without a doubt, these were some thought-provoking and insightful questions! I am thankful and honored that you’ve given me this rare opportunity to share these thoughts!
Thank you Aaron for taking the time to share your views and thoughts with our visitors and for answering all my questions! Those who would like to find out more about Aaron’s work should find visiting his website interesting and useful: http://kheph777.tripod.com it contains lots of interesting and original articles, as well as plenty of other useful resources. You can also order Aaron’s book from Amazon (if you have not done so already!) and find out more about his work: