From what I can glean of the material, Agrippa did not intend to produce a grimoire, or really expect anyone to actually use the techniques presented in his Three Books. He recognized that there were intelligent people in the Orient, many of whom had been active for quite some time in studying advanced ideas like mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and other academic fields that were comparatively rare in Europe at the time. He collected as much as he could of their lore, made a minimal effort to dovetail those ideas to philosophical equivalents in his own land, and Occult Philosophy represents a journal of his studies.
I doubt that Agrippa intended his work to be a great benefit to sorcerers and occultists. His effort was an attempt to describe some of the offbeat notions of foreign cultures, and to bring them into examination by his own people so that the general pool of knowledge might advance. He must have thought that the people of Arabia, Persia, and India were onto something interesting which was hardly acknowledged at all in Europe. Unfortunately, his source materials were not much better than those available in Europe, and he inadvertently created a massive interest in mumbo-jumbo as opposed to any definitive advances in science, medicine, or moral philosophy which he undoubtedly intended to encourage.
My response, then, is to say that Agrippa might have done better to engage in a much deeper study of his subject matter. When the allegorical pieces and the outright mistakes are removed, his work is essentially a study of hidden powers at work in the natural world as understood by Jews, Arabs, or other foreign thinkers long ago, and was an effort to understand how those powers influence moral philosophy. Thanks to the interest of generations of alchemists, magicians, Kabbalists, and others who carried the torch of occult study, we now have a whole field of study dedicated to those same goals which first inspired Agrippa. We call it Physics.
For example, nearly every occultist can quote the ancient lore regarding the four fundamental elements as fire, air, earth, and water. Except as a coarse form of symbolism only to be understood indirectly, these classical elements have all but lost their relevance in the modern understanding of existence. They have been replaced by the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity as the modern definition of the underlying structural powers of nature. Even these so-called forces are now thought to exist only as side-effects of a multidimensional topology hidden in plain sight as part of every known thing.
The strong nuclear force produces protons, the weak force produces atoms, electromagnetism produces compounds, and gravity determines the arrangement of all this stuff in space. The mathematical theorems which describe these effects represent a level of esotericism that rivals anything from the Zohar and puts to shame any of the quirky symbolic language of alchemy and astrology. These are hidden components of the universe which have a demonstrable existence, and which can only be (barely) understood by people who choose to go looking for such secrets.
I consider this sort of thing an advance in human knowledge, and I see a majority of occultists either avoid it like the plague or attempt to wrap it up in bogus theories that favor magical thinking over technical applications. Give your average occultist a selection of layman’s titles on Quantum Physics, and he will be soon be drawing signs in the air and vibrating names he associates with Planck’s Constant. There is some enthusiasm for the contemporary occultism (Physics), but it is too often approached from the same technical perspective as old-school religious rites, with robes, candles, chanting, and the like; or without anything at all beyond confidently thinking very hard about things not likely to occur.
Where does this new paradigm leave those who still wish to wrestle angels and summon demons? I would like to ask these people why it is so important to think of things in terms of angels and devils in the first place, except for the fact that such is the packaging in which they come to us. It is ridiculous and sad that people would invoke spirits who profess to teach the mysteries of natural or moral philosophy, yet come away with nothing more substantial than, "He like blueberries and agreed to be my pen pal." It should be obvious to everyone that the medieval catalogue of spirits is an attempt to lend some definition to the murky waters of the hidden aspects of the universe, and that said catalogues are at best unreliable as models of precise truth.
In my own work, I have attempted to gain an understanding of reality itself as a priority above knowing anything about spirits. I simply do not care what a particular spirit does on its own time, its true name or seal, or any of that. I think of those who conjure spirits seeking such things are chasing their own tails, building up an impressive pile of questionable data and going nowhere otherwise. I approach the spirits as spirits, according to the rules and precepts of techniques designed to contact spirits; but I also acknowledge that this is an abstract approach whose aim is to develop real and useful information.
I am also extremely uninterested in creating major reforms or refinements to the existing lore of spirits through my work with them. I do not care which arrangement fits most conveniently with your preferred philosophical system, which demon King goes where, or whether Heaven is subdivided according to income. I am interested very much in using the techniques of demonology to extract clues about things both practical and illuminating, especially in relation to advances in the general body of knowledge possessed by mankind.
For example, if a spirit reveals secrets of the virtues of herbs, it is sensible to apply that toward the development of medicines, and somewhat less sensible to seek out their planetary correspondences. If a spirit reveals the great secrets of creation, one should expect to gain precisely that, instead of updates to the tables in Liber 777. I feel that in many ways, the availability of occultism has invited people to move backwards along the timeline of knowledge when it could have been put toward some better purpose.
The predominant drawback of engaging in the real occult secrets of the universe is that they rarely add up to a confirmation of existing beliefs. If a person wants a “better mythic system,” with all the spirits and powers lined up neatly within a rigid framework, it might be better to simply make it up and hope for the best, as it will be irrelevant to almost everyone anyway. If, however, a person wants to actually understand what exists, and how things work, it will require some ability to adapt to new ideas and unfamiliar methodologies.
For a magician the whole field of physical science is unwelcoming at best. If magicians would stop attempting to transform 1950’s physics into a quick validation for shaky superstitions, they might find themselves in less antagonistic company among physicists. Magicians should probably also realize that while we intend to study the esoteric side of things, we are confined in that search to those things which can actually be experienced or observed.
I have nothing but disdain for the Atheist perspectives on scientific research. I recently listened to Stephen Hawking proudly proclaim that, based on his observations, “There is no God.” Wherever God might be, He is almost certainly not skulking around between neutrons somewhere, waiting to be caught. I have an opinion on God which suggests something eternal and omnipotent, not exactly the sort of subject that can fit under the microscope.
So where does this leave the modern magician who finds himself enthralled by the idea of magic, yet unwilling to leave his brain on the hat rack inside the entry doors of the Collegium Spiritus Sancti?
Despite what the Chaos Magicians claim, the world has not yet developed a semi-coherent system of occult practice which incorporates much of the scientific advance from the last 500 years. Those who profess to update the curriculum often do so at the expense of its integrity, leaving the student with a watered-down version of physics or an absurd postmodern version of magic.
My own response, as this journal probably indicates, is to explore the older works on their own terms. I draw pentacles, recite prayers, invoke spirits, and bind evil demons in the names of God, as these are some of the better options for such work that appear in my own time and culture. I am certain that there are other options which are just as valid, but I choose the Art of Solomon and the strictures and directives which come with it. At this point, I am more interested in exploring where it can go and what it can do to assist myself and others than matching up each spirit to its corresponding Psalm.
I have no concern whatsoever whether any of my work produces more or better collections of spirit lore. It is neither my design, nor my desire, to see the occultists of the world come together to make a new and giant revision of classical occultism. I am however extremely interested in seeing people develop new technologies and resolve some of the real and tangible problems of the world using the existing materials; and I believe that magic offers solutions that religion scorns and science cannot attempt.