OShTRTh (Astaroth) pronounced "Osh-tar-ot"
Duke Commanding 40 Legions
What is the meaning and purpose of magic? Is it a secret advantage? A remedy for inadequacy? A neglected birthright? I see magic approached in the modern world as if it were all of these things. One person will use magic to obtain securities and favors he would otherwise not obtain, while another uses it to perform crimes with impunity, and yet another seeks guidance or healing from it. Those who see magic as a tool for purely spiritual gain often neglect its practical value, and vice versa. If it is a sacred art, it would seem out of line to employ it for such dubious ends as career adjustments and relief from minor worries; but if it is not to be used for ordinary things then its overall value is greatly diminished. I sought, first and foremost, answers about the foundations of magic from this spirit said to guard great Secrets: to know the purpose of magic, its significance as an art or science, and its fundamental mechanisms.
From the very beginning, I received more than what I wanted; but in the end I was not disappointed.
The precise nature of this spirit has been the subject of some serious and well-warranted debate among occultists and religious scholars. Presented in numerous instances as Astaroth, a masculine demon, the same name appears elsewhere as a goddess of the ancient Middle East by the name of "Astarte" or "Ishtar" and a dozen or more variations.
The basic characteristics of Astarte the goddess typify femininity: beauty sentimentality, sexuality, vindictiveness, competitiveness, and confidence amidst vulnerability. She was given worship as one of the prominent deities of nearly every culture in the region for the last three or four thousand years, and in the current fashion of renovating ancient deities it is difficult to see such a widely-respected goddess presented as an evil demon, much less as a male.
I was prepared to let this issue resolve itself by experience, assuming that the distinction between the demon Astaroth and the goddess Astarte, or their congruence, would become immediately clear. It had seemed to me that it was a reasonable case that the two were in fact the same entity. Astaroth is associated with the planet Venus (a variation on the goddess) by the copper of its seal and by the timing of its office during the early morning. The image ascribed by the Goetia suggests a cruel angel astride "an infernal beast like a dragon" which I supposed to be the creature depicted on the Ishtar gate. The powers of Astaroth generally appearing in the grimoires include things like knowledge of secrets, bold and violent campaigns, and other pursuits which could easily be found in the character of Venus, Ishtar, Astarte, and other figures in that vein. The seal of the spirit, a pentacle with flourishes, also suggests an intimate connection to the planet Venus on account of obscure astronomical facts which have lately come into the popular imagination.
The appearance of the spirit, preceding the Address to the Spirit, was accompanied by two events for which I cannot account. One was a loud growl or roar that seemed to vibrate in the air, and which I expected to have awakened everyone in the house if not everyone in the neighborhood. My wife said she had some disturbing dreams that she could not recall, but no one seems to have been bothered by the sound. The other event was a series of chattering noises that I would have dismissed as animals having a lively conversation, except that there were a large number of them and they were very quiet. I am assured that it was not my children.
I heard a voice, quiet and sultry, and it was speaking whole sentences before the spirit became clear in the haze of my incense.
The apparition itself was nothing like what I had expected. I had been expecting maybe a beautiful woman, a diplodocus, Babylon the Great, a man covered in jeweled scales, or something that one might associate ordinarily with Astaroth or Astarte. Instead I was surprised to see what might have been Quetzalcoatl: a cockatrice ridden by a dwarf. When I say a "dwarf" I certainly do not mean a pygmy or a midget, but an adult person no bigger than an infant.
I have seen such a creature once before, alive as far as I could tell, in a side-show. The signs outside advertised "The World's Smallest Woman" with a picture of a dainty blonde in a poodle skirt standing happily on the hand of a man. I expected some trick of mirrors, a riddle so to speak, but was mortified to discover instead a deformed person less than two feet high sitting in a bundle watching TV. I was staring at a freak, not a trick, and there was a feeling of guilt I have not forgotten. I enjoyed the beautiful woman with her head sticking out of a rubber snake much more: her side-show act was at least an honest form of trickery.
I expect that it was this guilt which provoked the apparition to take such a form, though of all my guilts I cannot fathom why it would have chosen that particular one. Perhaps it had something to do with the nature of my disgust in the side-show incident. I had presumed to deface a secret, to expose myself to trickery and then wriggle away from it by wit and the powers of my own ingenuity. I would have seen the trick and guessed at its secrets, but was given what nature had accomplished without need of deceit or shame. Nature may be ugly, but it does not require an apology for its ugliness, nor make much in the way of distinction between that and the side we prefer to see.
The vision of the little woman on the cockatrice gave me no feeling of guilt. She was disgusting, but the beast had all the beauty of any fowl or serpent ever to crawl out of the jungle. The little elf was dark and sweaty, with a sour face that reminded me of "Ghoulies" more than any figure from mythology. The cockatrice - it could have been nothing else - was very large and covered with what appeared to be feathers stripped of their barbs, and a head more like a dog than a snake. It was a mix of beauty of deformity, and I guessed at the time that I was looking at some monstrosity that had gone to the dust in the extremely remote past, being ridden by a humanoid whose existence paleontology failed to record.
The spirit announced itself as the Bride of God, the Unknown which is Known, the Mystery Discovered, and sundry other titles. It declared that it would come for all who call, without schedule or condition. "Much is done that I have made happen, and now I extend my hand to you. What say you? Wish of me. I will be with you," was the end of its introduction, the most lengthy I have yet encountered.
I put my initial question to the spirit in as straightforward a manner as possible, seeking the meaning and purpose of magic.
"You have endured the ages of ignorance, belief, law, and knowledge, but the age of decision has not yet arrived."
Much followed here in regard to a succession of ages as developments in the tale of humanity. The spirit gave particular attention to the "Age of Law," which it described as the dawn of the idols. According to the spirit, aversion to laws gave rise to widespread attempts to develop new laws with their own spiritual benefactors. When a thing was proclaimed as bad, a supportive leader or deity was promoted for those who took an interest in the prohibited thing, leading to conflict. The spirit spoke only briefly of the other periods in history.
"A necessity of limitation" is key to the idea of magic, according to the spirit. We simply cannot have everything that we want or need, nor even everything we deserve or have earned. The part of power withheld by magic is a critical component in its performance. This doctrine of constriction is, according to the spirit, a central facet of magic that cannot be escaped, and which accounts for its failures, answering in part my curiosity about the mechanism behind magic.
The principle of limitation applies to the design, performance, and effect of magic, and is the crux upon which all of its operations rests. The principle, in is simplest form, is that a desire must arise and then be denied - sacrificed - to the greater goal which is presumably the true aim of the magician.
In the design and performance of magical spells and rituals, the principle of limitation is apparent in the conditions under which the magician must operate. The spell must be performed at a peculiar hour, or it must incorporate specific articles which might appear impossible or difficult to obtain. The body may be put into compromised positions, or the mind taxed by confusion. These are inconveniences which one might wish to abandon in favor of something that could be done any time, any place, using any thing, but it is the denial of these wishes that gives the spell its power.
In the effect of magic, as much depends on the limits of a spell as upon the powers it offers. The effect may weaken within a certain period, or affect only a particular person, or in some other way it will be confined to a result that forces the magician to plan ahead. A spell aimed at people with red hair, for example, has a better chance of success than a spell aimed at everyone you meet, and a spell aimed at everyone in the world is practically doomed to fail. A magician might like his spell to affect everyone in the world, but the desire is sacrificed in favor of something more precise for the sake of effectiveness.
The coiled or constricting serpent, feeding itself while squeezing its prey, is a very appropriate symbol for magic on account of this principle. Such a symbol appears in numerous forms throughout the legacy of magical lore, from the Heart Girt with a Serpent to the Ouroboros, both of which has several additional meanings which may or may not have any bearing on the idea of constriction in pursuit of freedom.
"You have this art to bring together what is reserved for each man and woman," was the manner in which this spirit indicated the role of magic as a sort of Karma exchange program. It is not enough to merely want something and then deny it; but instead it is necessary to be able to obtain what is wanted and then arrive at a position where it might be possible to obtain that. The spirit was hostile to the suggestion that we have freedom as individuals, unless freedom could be compared to a choice between what's behind Door A, vs. what's behind Door B. We are stuck with something, whether we want it or not, and magic is useful only in making a conscious choice in the matter.
The spirit was quite clear that magic is not a clever trick developed by mankind for the sake of making life easier. It is not chemistry or electricity, or some natural principle that we have harnessed by learning its rules and conditions. The spirit indicated that magic is, as we are told by even the most illiterate tracts on the subject, the underlying principle of life in matter. We live and govern our existence by spiritual intervention in matter, and the spirit was insistent that there is no mechanical difference between the greatest conjuration imaginable and the decision to pick your nose. Both acts are the product of incorporeal spirits manipulating material existence.
This spirit is said to speak of the creation of spirits and their fall from grace, and this seemed like a good time to continue the discussion on spirits. It is interesting to note that the name Astaroth first appear in the Bible in reference to "Astaroth of the Horns" in the tale of Abraham. This is identified as the capital of the Rephaim, ruled by Og of Bashan, the giant said to have survived for thousands of years after the Great Flood. I think it is significant that the principal city of this last of the "great men of old" bears the name of what is probably the most ancient of deities.
"The wild ones, without reason or purpose, unrestrained and uncontrolled, destroyed the world."
The Fall of Spirits was not, then an act of disobedience or rebellion, but simply failing to take heed of consequences. It should not be so surprising to we who live in this age of senseless global destruction. We are a world of litterbugs at best, and at worst we are dramatically reducing wilderness from its pristine state to wastelands, landfills, and the uninhabitable pavement empire that has become synonymous with civilization. Through sheer carelessness of an unrestrained and insatiable appetite, the world of those who dwell now only in our dreams was put to utter ruin.
The spirits, or so claimed the demon, are inextricably linked to this world. They depend on it entirely, as much as we humans do. Spirits - by this definition the demon did not exclude or divide the spirits into any sort of category, but spoke of them all together as a single body - depend on the material world and are not exempt from it. There was no hint whatsoever given for the existence of pure spirits who have no place in this world, or who are unaffected by it. They are as connected to the physical world "as you are to that body," to use the words of the demon.
I had been curious whether the description of the office of the spirit meant that it could speak of the "Fall of Spirits" in a general sense, as is described above, or if it meant only the reasons and circumstances of their bindings in the Brazen Vessel. Having satisfied my curiosity on that account, I pursued the vessel itself as it appears in the grimoire.
The image on the Brazen Vessel of Solomon, as described in the Lemegeton, shows a seal that has been the subject of some speculation. It is, in my opinion, reminiscent of an antique keyhole, which would be appropriate for a design of a locked vessel from which spirits are released by a "key" of Solomon. I have mentioned in Volume One of these experiments that the design is represented as the emblem of the Argent Elixir in Barchusen's 1718 work on alchemy, with a dragon in place of the seal of Saturn and a lion in place of Mars. Crowley, and many who follow his line of inductive reasoning, assert that the image is most likely representative of a goddess with arms raised. The words surrounding the vessel in Sloane 2731 also appear to support this view. I had long suspected that the seal depicts the Tower of Babel, which is often considered to be the foundations of sorcery and idolatry. I decided to ask the spirit, who speaks on Secret things, about the Secret Seal of Solomon.
"A cloud by day and a column of fire by night."
This was most interesting. These are the manifestations of God that led the Hebrews out of Egypt, which are events mentioned in the conjurations, but more significantly they are connected to the famous "Shem Ha-Mephorasch" of 216 letters. This Name of God has 72 divisions and is drawn from a peculiar method of reading a particular passage in Exodus concerning the final downfall of Pharaoh's army. These names are also invoked as the roots of angelic names appearing as "balancing" forces contrary to those of the spirits in the Goetia. The appearance of the "pillar of fire" in this instance is very intriguing as it connects, and perhaps explains, the use of the 72-fold name in variations of this form of ceremony for a reason other than numeric congruence.
Someone, perhaps Rudd or his source material, had identified the image of the Secret Seal and adapted that knowledge to an expanded form of the art which incorporated the spirits whose names are encoded in the portion of the Torah wherein that image is described as the final seal on the freedom of the Hebrews and the demise of their oppressors.
I asked specifically about "fallen angels" and the like. The spirit responded that there is knowledge of good and evil even among the spirits, and that their crime are known to it. The demon Astaroth would betray the secret indiscretions even of other spirits, exposing their weaknesses. "All are cast down for a cause," it declared, though I will not detail such causes here as I consider it a matter of privilege.
The spirit did speak at length on the idea of women, and the failure in relations between men and women which has been the norm for people since ages untold. We are, "always frustrated with what cannot be controlled," and it used the idea of women as an analogy for the allure of magic. Women exemplify the powers of magic, of which this spirit Astaroth declared it was the especial representative.
"Beauty, power, and trust," the virtues of women in its estimate, are valued for their ability to "violate the rule not uphold it." The spirit decried the source of most human frustrations as a network of what amounted to superstitions and taboos, whereas it proclaimed restrictions as described above as the superior alternative. It appeared that the spirit was actually giving a complaint about people, which is ironic to find in a spirit that might otherwise be expected to revel in human failure.
I asked the spirit, in particular, about the occult ambitions of people. I have seen failure, and success, in every form of magic from many different people. I have done some considerable things myself, and yet elsewhere I have expected results and found nothing. I wanted to know the hidden components behind these differences, especially those concerned with people working with more or less the same procedures and finding substantially different results.
Now it may seem odd that the spirit would be in the midst of a general statement on human nature and then become pestered by me about occultism. I must reiterate that this spirit practically insisted that it is the source of magical ambitions, guiding those who seek its aid to the paths whereupon their desires may be made manifest. Those paths might need to be hacked clear at times, and the use of magic, warfare, science, and the devices of all manner of passion are the means of clearing those paths. This spirit has been influential in such pursuits for a very long time, and with me it was keen to promote itself as the fountain of arcane knowledge.
I was told specifically that the difference between success and failure was a matter of discipline. It is not enough to have rules, or even obsessive observances, if one has not the right sort of discipline. There is no particular discipline for any particular goal, but for each ambition for each person there is a methodical approach which must be put into practice. I desired instruction in this, so that the way of determining the proper discipline could be discovered by myself or any other person.
"For forty-two days meditate daily on my seal, the pentacle with a circle at its center."
The spirit explicitly forbid me to mention any of this until the Solstice, for reasons it did not describe. I have been asked about it, but have withheld answer until now.
"Unburden yourself from all crimes and apply yourself to all non-escape motives," was added to its demands. Crime is a fairly cut-and dry category, but the motive of escape is obscure. I suppose this to mean any action taken to remove myself from a problem rather than fix it.
"Evaluate the worthiness of anything found," was also instructed, again for unknown reasons. I have seen no specific reason for this suggestion.
"Create from intent, not from design." This was also enigmatic, and I suppose it had more to do with my line of work than anything else.
I have maintained the "discipline" of the spirit since the conjuration some weeks ago. I must report that every single night of sleep has produced some of the most vivid and terrifying nightmares I have ever experienced. Almost all of them involve dragons and other fantasy themes, disease and all sorts of loathsome creatures, a variety of occult concepts, and each with a direct lesson demonstrated. The consistency of these nightmares rules out the reasonable possibility that they are not in some way related to the work prescribed by the spirit. I tend to dream about people, houses, cars, and that sort of thing; and usually not humongous fat ugly dragons that vomit glowing snot and tell me I will die of colon cancer.
Overall I must say that I regard these dreams not as the result of the practice but as an indication of the character of the spirit and as signs of its acknowledgment for my persistence.
I had spent quite a long time with the spirit and thought that, having received answers and a "discipline" which might elicit more, it was time to say the License to Depart. The room was already thick with haze from copious amounts of incense that had been put on the dying coal, and whether the spirit disappeared or simply faded into the fog was not apparent. It said nothing at its departure, and I wondered if it had gone at all, so I repeated the License to Depart twice more before concluding the ceremony.