Book Review: “The Holy Guardian Angel”, ed. Michael Cecchetelli

As you may already have heard elsewhere on the blogosphere, dear reader, there’s a new book out on one of the most central and confusing parts of modern Western Hermetic magic: the Holy Guardian Angel.  Michael Cecchetelli of The Lion’s Den, author of Crossed Keys and The Book of Abrasax, recently approved the final proof of his most recent book “Holy Guardian Angel: On the Practice and Experience of the Holy Guardian Angel” and it’s on its way to the printer with Nephilim Press.  With 10 authors contributing, including amongst others Jason Miller, Conjureman Ali, Scott Michael Stenwick, Aaron Leitch, Frater Ashen Chassan, and my own mentor Frater Rufus Opus, the book is one I’ve personally been waiting for for some time now. Happily, Fr. MC himself posted a call for reviewers, and after sending the good man an email, he sent me a copy of the text for my own review!  To say that I’m honored is an understatement.

I personally made contact with my HGA back in the summer of 2012, about the time when I was consecrating my Solomonic Ring and was undergoing a large amount of time doing solar work in addition to the Headless Rite at least once daily.  I made some allusions to it before, but never formally talked about making contact with my HGA or talked at length about my HGA’s nature.  Partially, that’s because I’ve been busy with other parts of my ritual work done or finishing up other projects, and in my life that’s already pretty busy to begin with, this is no trivial matter.  I haven’t done as much introspection and inspection of my HGA that I probably should have by now, and I admit that the feeling I get between us may be strong but is also somewhat distant.  That said, since having made contact with my HGA, he has never ignored me or abandoned me; that connection, though it may be distant and small, has never been weak or forsaken.  I’ve spoken with other magicians in my circle of friends about the nature of the HGA, with one of the best/most comical ideas being that the HGA is akin to a “divine sockpuppet”, throttling back the incomprehensible majesty of the Source into a single comprehensible figure for our individual selves, something like a personal Christ figure, but this might be more properly be considered akin to an agathodaimon or similar tutelary god.  It’s tricky, and during previous blogosphere debates on the HGA, I’ve never thought myself capable of getting enmeshed in them since I don’t really know what to say.  The connection with the HGA is something intensely personal and is truly a revealed mystery, and there’s really so little that can be said about the HGA to begin with.  Those who have contact with the HGA know what it’s like and have little need to talk about it; those without contact have no means to understand what can be said.  Still, even among those who do have contact with the HGA, there’s a lot that can be said about the development, use, and work with the HGA, and that’s what Fr. MC’s new book aims to accomplish.

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The text itself is 216 pages long, beautifully typeset and well-edited, making the reading of it a pleasure all on its own.  The book is broken down into four parts: the nature of the HGA, what comes after contact and how to work with the HGA, different schools of thought about the HGA, and a whole section devoted to some of the important blog posts made during the 2011 pan-blogosphere debates on the HGA.  Of course, MC himself is only one contributing author to the book, and that only in the final section; as he says in the introduction, he “realized no author had set about producing such a volume [on achieving K&CHGA], wherein are presented a diverse and varying cross-section of the beliefs on the subject, was because no single author could”.  It’s a complicated subject with layers upon layers of interpretation, use, and philosophy, making writing such a book on such a spirit more daunting than any other series of tomes on almost any other part of magic.

One theme that’s developed throughout the work is that K&CHGA is not just part of the Great Work, but is in fact the whole of the Great Work itself.  Taken at face-value, that’s kinda a silly statement, and doesn’t make much sense, but on deeper inspection, it becomes abundantly clear.  Many people in the Golden Dawn associate contact with the HGA to start at the grade corresponding to Tiphareth on the Tree of Life (Adeptus Minor); it’s no coincidence that (as far as I’ve heard) there are no formal grades beyond this point beyond what’s directed by one’s HGA alone, though the structure exists for them.  The entire work from this point onward is directed by one’s HGA, who really is our true teacher to understand our True Will.  After a certain point, however, even the HGA disappears when it becomes no longer useful for us, like how a raft is left behind after a journey across a river.  This is why I almost always say that I’ve made “contact” with my HGA instead of “knowledge and conversation”; I have at least partial knowledge of my HGA, sure, but developing the deep connection between us to where there is nothing external to me, becoming one with, within, and as God, the true “conversation” of the HGA, is something I’ll forever be working on.  The HGA, indeed, is a fundamental part of the Great Work, and though Crowley states that “the single supreme ritual is the attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, this is a ritual that takes a lifetime to complete.

This theme is developed through the book, that attaining contact with the HGA isn’t a one-time thing.  Even for myself, where I already have contact with my HGA, Fr. MC’s book is packed with good advice from people who have done the Work beyond what they’ve generously written about, and it inspires me with new things I’m eager to try out.  While I don’t see the need at this point to go through the Abramelin operation or redo a six-month stint of daily Headless Rites, that doesn’t mean I completely understand and can do anything with my HGA that I want to do.  You don’t just do the rituals and be done with it, receiving a full spirit guide at your beck and call; it’s the opening to a relationship where you two must work together to understand the Work to be done.  Just as the Sun rising once for one day doesn’t give all the light and energy necessary for the Earth to do everything it needs to do for its predicted 3.7 billion years, it has to rise continuously over and over again, each time going through the nocturnal underworld in order for the Earth and all its life to continue developing, building, and lasting.  Speaking from experience, I can definitely attest to this being the case, but happily this book provides means and new ideas for me to continue working with my own HGA in a big way that I wouldn’t’ve thought of.

Something that I’m totally okay with and agree with as a matter of scope is that the book does not offer much in the way of ritual.  Several authors offer some ritual rubrics and ideas to actually work with the HGA, but these are still rubrics with mostly experiences of use with them and not detailed ritual instructions themselves.  Rather, the book focuses more on “what the HGA can do for you”, and points out that there are so many ways to approach the HGA and many ways to come in contact with it, not just via the Headless Rite or the Abramelin operation.  That’s one of the goals of this book and the overall work of the HGA, too: it really doesn’t matter how you do the work here, so long as you do something.  Fr. MC himself says as much in his final entry: “there is no substitute for experiential knowledge…what is most crucial is to DO”.  The rituals offered within the book are references to those from the PGM, Abramelin, Solomonic-inspired shamanic acts, or Gnostic Ogdoatic methods to work with the HGA, which is saying quite a lot about the background the book offers that it combines all of them near seamlessly into a cohesive text.  What this book is good for is that offers the reader a glance into the experience of those few practicing magicians with actual experience with the HGA, as well as their (wildly divergent but critically useful) thoughts on the spirit.

It’s the combination of authors within “The Holy Guardian Angel” that really gives authority and authenticity to the book.  There’s a lot written about the HGA out there, but very little of it can be trusted (even more than most stuff on magic out there).  Even Fr. MC himself says as much in one of his old blog posts (reproduced in the book as a part of the section on the blogosphere debates):

…of all those who claim they have established “Knowledge and Conversation….”, 70% are lying, 15% have interpreted the aforementioned S.A. or another helpful spirit AS the HGA when in fact it is not and therefore truly believe they HAVE Knowledge and Conversation… etc…, 10% have no contact with any spirit and are under the new age proliferated misconception that contact with spirits evoked comes in the form of “clear messages, like really reeeaallly clear messages in my head” or another such abominable lie.

5%, then, are those who genuinely have made conscious, true contact and have attained what Abramelin and Abraham von Worms call “Knowledge and Conversation of The Holy Guardian Angel”. And thats a liberal number. In the majority of cases, those who are among this 5% and have ascended to this level, will know recognize one another in conversation or when reading each others writing on the subject. This is because the experience of meeting this transcendent being is absofuckinglutely changing, and there are no circumstances under which one having done so could not be utterly, permanently changed.

While I may not agree with the literal percentages of these counts, it hits home when Crowley himself says that “until the Magician has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel he is liable to endless deceptions”.  Attaining contact with the HGA is no easy thing, and while it’s no advanced thing either, it takes work and, like any real spiritual endeavor, it changes the entire game of one’s life.  It’s one of the closest parallels the modern Western mystery tradition has to a life-death-rebirth ritual seen in many other spiritual paths, and if you ask anyone who’s undergone that type of ritual, if it was done right then you and everyone around you knows for a goddamn fact it was done right.  Anything else is a lie and there is no substitute for it, either to get others to think you have the contact with this spirit or to get yourself to have contact with this spirit.  That we have such a collection of esteemed magicians who have the experience and scars to show they have the real deal with their corresponding HGAs is a treat for magicians in the modern day, especially since more and more is being written about the HGA by people who may not be anywhere as qualified to talk about it.

Whether you’ve already had contact with your HGA, or even already reached the grade of Ipsissimus in the Golden Dawn, or even are a newcomer to Hermetic magic generally, Fr. MC’s book “The Holy Guardian Angel” is going to be a wealth of information and practice for you.  It’ll give you things to look forward to if you don’t yet have contact with your HGA, and it’ll give you plenty to chew on if you already do (or think you do).  The book is one of the closest things we have to a textbook on working with the HGA especially when paired with things like the Book of Abramelin or Liber Samekh, but it’s also definitely one of the most approachable texts out there.  To see the words and minds of these magicians put together in a single volume on a complicated subject is a treat, both intellectually and spiritually, and definitely a must-have for ceremonial magicians.  Stop by Nephilim Press and place your orders soon!

Ancient Words of Power for the Directions

(Update 1/9/2018: Interested in more about these entities?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

After all this time, I’m finally getting around to reading Michael Cecchetelli’s excellent text the Book of Abrasax, however slowly that might be.  I’m still just getting into the material, but it’s already off to a good start, especially since he starts off with a ritual I already use frequently: the Calling of the Sevenths, also called the heptagram or heptasphere rite.  I use this daily in my morning ritual schema, as well as whenever I need a quick rebalancing and recharging.  What’s interesting is that Cecchetelli adds in a bit after the intonation of the vowels by calling on four barbarous words of power in a manner reminiscent of the LBRP.  It’s interesting, and I like the effect.  It also reminded me of Stephen Flowers’ Hermetic Magic, where he also introduces the heptagram ritual along with a calling of the quarters, but using different words of power and introducing divine images or godforms to associate with the words.  It’s interesting stuff, and I don’t know why I wasn’t using this before.  (Flowers also used these same words to form the working circle of the magus, as shown on the book’s cover).

Flowers’ work is based on the Greek Magical Papyri (specifically here II.104ff, XII.87ff), which forms the basis for the associations of the names and images with the cardinal directions.  Cecchetelli uses a different set of names for the cardinal directions but doesn’t include the images, and I don’t know off the top of my head where he got his associations of the names with the directions from.  Neither text offers associations of names with the depths, the heights, or the center, even though both authors incorporate the names into the heptagram/heptasphere ritual which make use of these three directions.  In my own experiments, I combined these two sets of names by using Flowers’ attribution of the names to the cardinal directions and used the two other names from Cecchetelli’s list for the vertical dimension (with the spelling corrected to conform with the most commonly seen forms of the words).

With all that in mind, my resulting list of associations between names, directions, planets, vowels, and images becomes this:

  1. East: ΕΡΒΗΘ (ERBĒTH).  A winged dragon with a crown of clouds rising above the horizon.
  2. North: ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ (SESENGENBARPHARANGĒS).  An infant child sitting atop a blossoming lotus.
  3. West: ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ (ABLANATHANALBA).  A crocodile with the tail of a snake arising from the waters.
  4. South: ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ (LERTHEXANAX).  A falcon with its wings stretching out to their full wingspan.
  5. Down: ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ (DAMNAMENEUS).  A young maiden looking forward with a torch in her left hand and a spear in her right.
  6. Up: ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ (AKRAMMAKHAMAREI).  An old man looking downward with a ring of keys in his right hand and a staff in his left.

Although the divine images for the cardinal directions came from the PGM via Flowers, no images were given for ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ or ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ; these I came up with based on what was revealed to be after asking the names and the spiritual entities associated with them.  They seem to work well for me, though admittedly aren’t traditional and are influenced by their planetary associations.  I prefer Flowers’ attributions of the names to the directions over Cecchetelli’s mostly because I can find more extant texts with the same or similar words and directions.

Though there are six names given above, there are seven points of the heptagram ritual; the point missing from the above list is the center point.  I reserve this point for my own HGA, using his name as a word of power in its own right and focusing on his appearance as he appears to me.  You might do the same, or reserve it for your patron/matron deity, other agathodaimonic entity, or your own divine Self using your craft name (a la the Headless Rite‘s “I am thy prophet Moses/Ankh-Af-Na-Khonsu…”).

When used with the heptagram ritual, the words of power essentially correspond to calling the quarters or the Watchtowers, but in a non-angelic or early Hermetic manner.  Although Flowers and Cecchetelli both keep themselves to the four cardinal directions, I like the added use of the third dimension plus my own HGA being with me (once that connection is forged, any method to keep that connection open or make it stronger helps).  So, to call the respective directions using these names, I’d probably go with a structure like the following, visualizing the proper divine image for each name:

ΕΡΒΗΘ, take thy place before me!
ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ, take thy place behind me!
ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ, take thy place at my right!
ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ, take thy place at my left!
ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ, take thy place in the heights!
ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ, take thy place in the depths!
(name of HGA), take thy place with me, now and at all times, here and in all places!

Of course, I wanted to do a bit of research in what these names mean, if they mean anything at all.  In a lot of cases when it comes to these barbarous words of power, there is no etymology to be found, though interesting conjectures might be made or results found through gematria and isopsephy.  ΕΡΒΗΘ is part of a frequently-seen Setian formula in the PGM, usually in damaging or harmful contexts; ΑΒΛΑΝΑΘΑΝΑΛΒΑ and ΣΕΣΕΓΓΕΝΒΑΡΦΑΡΑΓΓΗΣ are very common words used all throughout the PGM though with no known origin besides a possible Hebrew or Aramaic etymology, but often used for beneficial purposes.  ΛΕΡΘΕΞΑΝΑΞ is part of a much longer word known as the Aberamen formula, itself a palindrome which contains the name of Thoth.  ΔΑΜΝΑΜΕΝΕΥΣ is known to be one of the six Ephesia Grammata, hypothesized to refer to the Sun since ancient times, but has also been seen in the PGM for love and luck.  ΑΚΡΑΜΜΑΧΑΜΑΡΕΙ is a word I’ve come to know as a Semitic phrase translated to “cast off the nets”, as in any boundaries or bindings that would prevent a ritual from working.  Beyond this, unfortunately, my research skills don’t turn up much.

As for the images, those are a bit easier, given that we know already to look at Greco-Egyptian symbolism.  Serpents are often seen as forces of great power, especially that of vital or creative essence; being both of the earth (crawling) and of the sky (flying), the flying serpent is not unlike the image of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, with whom ΕΡΒΗΘ shares some similarities.  Falcons are solar symbols, and is known to be the countenance of the Egyptian god Horus or Ra, depending on the timeframe.  Crocodiles are seen as gateways to the underworld and an animal of Set, countering the lighter images of the winged serpent and falcon.  The lotus is, much as in Eastern symbolism, an image of purity and eternity, and combined with the image of the infant symbolizes divinity being born into the world (the North is the Egyptian direction of holiness and immortality).  The images of the keyring and staff as well as of the torch and spear are a little more modern, to me, since they were things I “tuned into”, and so don’t have clear Egyptian correspondences.  The keyring and staff suggest the power over freedom (unlocking and locking as well as barring from and supporting one), while the torch and spear suggest active force (illumination, flammability, battle, direction).

Regardless of their occult meaning, the words work, which is the important thing.  For those who already do or have experience with the LBRP or calling the quarters/Watchtowers, you already know more or less what to expect with this.  When I use the calls of the names after the heptagram rite, I end up feeling distinct presences at the directions, kinda like guardians or gatekeepers, neither wrathful nor peaceful.  I like it, and it makes me feel safer and more powerful all at once.  It’s probably something I should’ve been doing in some form by this point, but I’ll also probably tweak and change it as needed until I come up with something a little more stable and fixed.  Using all six names isn’t strictly necessary; the four cardinal directions alone will suffice, using either Flowers’ or Cecchetelli’s associations of the names to the directions, but I prefer to use all six.  Using that extra third dimension helps me establish a magical zone or operant field, much as using the Qabbalistic Cross, “parting of the veil”, L(B/I)R(P/H), or what-have-you.