By Frater S.C.F.V.
The Key of Solomon opens with these striking words in Book I, Chapter I:
“SOLOMON, the Son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore Him, to honour Him with contrition of heart, to invoke Him 1 in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.
When, therefore, thou shalt wish to acquire the knowledge of Magical Arts and Sciences, it is necessary to have prepared the order of hours and of days, and of the position of the Moon, without the operation of which thou canst effect nothing; but if thou observest them with diligence thou mayest easily and thoroughly arrive at the effect and end which thou desirest to attain” (Peterson, 2004).
When contemporary Magicians hear the phrase “fear of God,” they tend to immediately assume that the Key is praising something like a state of terror, or what the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called the state of “fear and trembling.”
Naturally, since fear is often considered to be an unpleasant, painful, or negative state, students of the Hidden Knowledge may be dissuaded by this phrase in the grimoires and may want to skip over it, disregard it as ‘outmoded’ or ‘negative,’ and intentionally decide not to put this instruction into practice.
Lest we mistake a nugget of gold for a piece of coal, however, it is worth carefully considering whether the grimoires actually are encouraging us to cultivate a disempowering state of terror here, which certainly would be negative if it were the case. What, if, on the contrary, the grimoiric writers have something very different in mind?
Thankfully, the state of debilitating fear does not seem to be what the grimoire writers mean by the phrase “fear of God.” Instead, they are using the word “fear” in an archaic sense that is different from how we use the word today. Properly-translated, the “fear of God” of the grimoire writers is a state far more profound than mere terror, a state that the ever-erudite Aaron Leitch aptly describes as a state of “reverential awe.” And, as we will attempt to show in this article, it is a state which holds the key to unlocking ever deeper regions of our magic, our life, and our psychological and spiritual experience.
When we are in a state of terror, we may indeed feel reverential awe for the power of whatever we are afraid of to overwhelm or harm us. True terror implicitly carries respect within it, for who among us fears what we do not respect enough to take seriously?
However, there are other states of reverential awe that do not involve terror as such. A prime and powerful example of such an alternative state is love. When a lover he holds and is enraptured by the vision of their beloved, they experience a state of ‘reverential awe,’ or loving wonder, which is undeniably pleasant, even blissful.
Thus, both fear and love can be states of reverential awe, and each implies a state of humility towards the beloved or the sublimely respected. This humility in the face of something vast and powerful is central to the grimoiric understanding of reverential awe.
The stark reality is that if we overlook, dismiss, or disregard the process of cultivating a state of reverential awe in our magical practice, then we deprive ourselves of one of the most powerful keys to unlocking the mysteries of Renaissance and classical magic. Conversely, by cultivating this state, we plug our magical workings deep into a root reservoir of magical power that stems all the way back to the shamanic roots of grimoiric magic, as Aaron Leitch (2009) lucidly describes in his Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, and which Agrippa (2000) similarly describes in his section on “phrensies” or ecstatic states.
Indeed, reverential awe–the ‘fear of God’ of the grimoires–is a kind of ecstatic state, that elevates the Magician into a charged condition of fully-present, fully-alert consciousness and open receptivity to the wondrous influence of higher powers.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).
Reverential awe is no small thing, no mere state among other human states and equal to all others. As the great German writer Goethe points out, of all of the emotional and phenomenological states of which we are capable,
“the highest a man can attain is wonder, and when the primordial phenomenon makes him wonder he should be content; it can give him nothing higher, and he should not look for anything beyond it — here is the boundary” (Eckermann, 2011).
Indeed, beyond the Christian mystical experience, reverential awe is central to the experience of both profound Zen meditation and also in bhakti yogic samadhi states. In both experiences, one finds oneself ‘falling open’ into silent absorption that transcends the subjective experience of finite selfhood.
What’s more, as alluded to above, Agrippa’s (2000) “phrenzy of Venus” is also a state of “reverential awe,” while being a state of intimate immersion of an ecstasy of love that is far removed from ‘terror’ and more akin to a deeply-charged, blissful trust or surrender. Furthermore, even Kirkegaard’s aforementioned “fear and trembling” state of reverential awe can itself be seen as simply another modality of the Sufi and Mystical Christian’s loving absorption form of reverential awe.
Strikingly, the magical significance of reverential awe does not stop here. According to the Renaissance angelological lore that underlies the historical background of the grimoires, the Angelic beings with whom Magicians aims to perform Operations exist in a state of perpetual reverential awe of the Divine. As a result, when we enter this mode of consciousness, we find ourselves in an emotional and spiritual condition that is magically sympathetic with the ordinary state of the Angels (Agrippa, 2000).
Thus, while immersed in reverential awe, we are, in effect, phenomenologically and spiritually harmonized or “vibrating in harmony” with the Angels themselves, like mutually-tuned strings on a guitar (Agrippa, 2000). As a result, when we are in such a state, it can be easier to communicate with Angels according to the Agrippan sympathetic theory. This holds true in my own practical experience as well.
Not is this an abstract or far-fetched idea. On the contrary, the logic at play in this grimoiric understanding of the ‘fear of god’ as a magical technology that enables two beings in the same state to better connect with one another also makes intuitive sense based on our everyday mundane experience.
For example, and to continue the musical metaphor, two metalheads often find it easier to connect than a country fan and a metalhead who loathes country from the black recesses of his iron heart.
Similarly, two people who are both experiencing sadness tend to find it easier to ‘sympathize’ with one another. In contrast, someone who is ecstatically joyful may find it difficult to connect with someone who is experiencing a deeply depressed mood and “meet them where they are at.”
Entering a state of reverential awe is much like this; in this state, we endeavour to meet the Divine and Angelic and celestial beings as much as possible “where they are at.” In so doing, it is easier for them as well to manifest and appear to us in a way we can detect.
What’s more, this point can be understood as a special case of a more general philosophical or natural law within the grimoiric worldview. Just as Magicians aim to bring their state of being into a harmonic resonance with that of the Angels through the cultivation of reverential awe, so do they do the same with other grimoiric techniques.
More concretely, if Angels exist in a state of purity, always giving offerings of loving reverential awe and service to God, then if we Magicians purify ourselves, give offerings, and cultivate a state of reverential awe, then we can more easily ‘sympathize with’ them. As a result, in such a state, we can more readily connect and communicate with these Spirits.
This is precisely why, in his Operations, John Dee spent hours working himself into a blissfully loving date through ecstatic prayer before approaching the Table and Crystal with Edward Kelley.
In other grimoiric texts, we find that this point not only recurs, but is applied in different magical contexts with illuminating implications. For example, there is a passage in Joseph H. Peterson’s (2006) edition of the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, which describes the exact same elevation through reverential awe into a state of sympathetic resonance with higher spiritual powers to which we alluded above (Peterson, 2006). The passage in question is located in the text of the “Semiphoras” section of the Books and reads as follows:
“He who desires the influence of the Sun, must not only direct his eyes toward it, but he must elevate his soul-power [italics mine] to the soul-power of the Sun, which is God himself, having previously made himself equal to (that is, in harmony with the nature of God) by fasting, purification and good works, but he must also pray in the name of the intermediary, with fervent love to God, and his fellow-man that he may come to the sun-spirit, so that he may be filled with its light and luster, which he may draw to himself from heaven, and that he may become gifted with heavenly gifts and obtain all the desires of his heart.
As soon as he grasps the higher light and arrives at a state of perfection, being gifted with supernatural intelligence, he will also obtain supernatural might and power. For this reason, without godliness, man will deny his faith in Christ, and will become unacceptable to God, therewith often falling prey to the evil spirits against whom there is no better protection than the fear of the Lord and fervent love to God and man” (Peterson, 2006).
A few points are worth noting in this profound passage. First of all, we find that the grimoire recommends Magicians to undertake certain practices that result in elevating their “soul power” to the “soul-power of the Sun, which is God himself.” “Elevating one’s soul power” is another way of saying placing ourselves into a state of sympathetic resonance with the object of one’s devotions or work, in this case the Sun.
Indeed, the Hebrew word “Qadosh” means both “elevated” and “holy.” A holy state in the grimoires, then, is a state of sympathetic resonance achieved through shared qualities. Just as a sad person can sympathize with a sad person or an angry person can sympathize with a wrathful and malevolent spirit, a person in an elevated or holy state can better sympathize with a Spirit in an elevated or holy state, such as an Angel.
Interestingly, this notion is also well-known to Esperitistas, which is why they invest so much time in prayer, purification, and putting themselves in harmony with the “Developed Sporits” from which they aim to learn.
Second, and in this way, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses suggest that by fasting, praying, doing good works, purifying ourselves with ritual bathing, and cultivating “fear of the Lord and love of God and man” that is, reverential awe, can make us “equal to God.” By “equal to God,” the text doesn’t mean that we miraculously develop omnipotence and omniscience; instead, it means that we enter into “a state that is sympathetically in harmony with the Nature of God” (Peterson, 2006).
This is the optimal state for doing magic with the help of Angels and via the invocation of Divine Names, which is the case for Enochian magic, Key of Solomon work, Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses work, the Abramelin Operation and many other grimoiric texts and approaches.
Similarly, there’s an interesting passage in the 18th century astrologer Ebenezer Sibly’s A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences, Book 4 which, in a like manner, suggests that the state of reverential awe or “fear of God” is central to the work of the Magician who aims to work with Angels. Sibly (2000) writes:
“All who in this world lived uprightly; and preserved a good conscience, walking in the fear of God, and in the love of divine truths, applying the same to practical use, seem to themselves as men awakened out of sleep, and as having passed from darkness to light, when they first enter upon their second or interior state; for when they think from the light of pure wisdom, and they do all things from the love of goodness; heaven influences their thoughts and affections, and they are in communication with angels” (Sibly, 2000).
This is the same essential idea we find expressed in the Renaissance sources and late Medieval grimoires and the underlying rationale for many of the grimoiric practices. As such, it is worth contemplating deeply, and not being too hastily discarded.
Indeed, reverential awe is not simply invaluable to the work of Magicians who aim to commune with Angels. In many texts, it is also the very same state in which the Exorcist or Conjurer conjures Spirits. In the Heptameron‘s Conjuration of Wednesday, for instance, we read:
“I conjure and call upon you, ye strong and holy angels, good and powerful, in a strong name of fear and praise, Ja, Adonay, Elohim, Saday, Saday, Saday; Eie, Eie, Eie; Asamie, Asamie; and in the name of Adonay, the God of Israel, who hath made the two great lights, and distinguished day from night for the benefit of his creatures; and by the names of all the discerning angels, governing openly in the second house [*Second Heaven] before the great angel, <Tetra> [*Tegra], strong and powerful; and by the name of his star which is Mercury; and by the name of his seal, which is that of a powerful and honoured God; and I call upon thee, Raphael, and by the names above mentioned, thou great angel who presidest over the fourth day: and by the holy name which is written in the front of Aaron, created the most high priest, and by the names of all the angels who are constant in the grace of Christ, and by the name and place of Ammaluim, that you assist me in my labours, &c” (Peterson, 2018).
Correspondingly, this same use of reverential awe in a combined blend of “fear and love” is included in the “Orations to be Said While You Conjure” in the Key of Knowledge transcribed from British Library, Additional Manuscript 36674 by Joseph H. Peterson (1999):
Lord Jesus Christ, the loving Son of God, which dost illuminate the hearts of all men in the world, lighten the darkness of my heart, and kindle the fire of thy most holy love in me. Give me true faith, perfect charity, and virtue, whereby I may learn to fear and love thee and keep thy commandments in all things; that when the Last Day shall come, the Angel of God may peaceably take me, and deliver me from the power of the Devil, that I may enjoy everlasting rest amidst the company of the holy Saints, and sit on thy right hand. Grant this, thou Son of the living God for thy holy name’s sake. Amen” (Peterson, 1999).
Nor is the cultivation of reverential awe only called upon for use in evocation or as a general way of life of sanctity and spiritual uprightness.
Indeed, in his Third Book of Occult Philosophy, Agrippa (2000) recommends cultivating reverential awe as a prerequisite for all forms of divination. He writes:
“Every one therefore that works by lots, must go about it with a mind well disposed, not troubled, nor distracted, and with a strong desire, firm deliberation, and constant intention of knowing that which shall be desired.
Moreover he must, being qualified with purity, chastity, and holiness towards God, and the celestials, with an undoubted hope, firm faith, and sacred orations, invocate them, that he may be made worthy of receiving the divine spirits, and knowing the divine pleasure; for if thou shalt be qualified, they will discover to thee most great secrets by vertue of lots, and thou shalt become a true Prophet, and able to speak truth concerning things past, present, and to come, of which thou shalt be demanded.
Now what we have spoken here concerning lots, is also to be observed in the auguries of all discemings, viz. when with fear, yet with a firm expectation we prefix to our souls for the sake of prophecying some certain works, or require a sign, as Eleasar, Abrahams countryman, & Gideon Judge in Israel are read to have done.”
In short, Agrippa (2000) points us to the importance of cultivating a state of purity, holiness and reverential awe married to “firm faith” so that our nature can be made sympathetically resonant with the “celestials” and “divine spirits” who can help us to conduct the divination of things unknown and hidden (i.e. occult). This, in effect, is an act of placing ourselves into the sympathetic magic equation in the same way that we place corresponding stones, metals, or incenses into a ceremonial ritual with the aim of amplifying the sympathetic power of the Rite.
Therefore, although many of us modern Magicians seem to have forgotten it, Magician are not only a conductor of sympathetic ingredients; we ourselves are such ingredients. And therefore, we must ensure that we work ourselves into the appropriate state of sympathetic harmony–such as reverential awe–that will enable us to maximize the effectiveness of our rituals.
Nor do we only find the grimoires and Early Modern sources enjoining us to cultivate reverential awe through the mouths of human writers; instead, the Spirits also offer similar instructions. For example, in John Dee’s True and Faithful Relation of What Passed for Many Years Between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits (2003), we find the Archangel Gabriel telling Dee and Kelley that:
“Blessed are those who dwell in charity. Persevere to the end: not negligently, but with good will, which good will, is called fear, which fear is the beginning of wisdom, the first step into rest.”
This is a very interesting passage for several reasons. First, Gabriel links the “fear” or reverential awe of which he speaks to “good will,” or sincerity or being goodhearted and well-intentioned.
Second, the Archangel also links this state to the “beginning of wisdom,” which sincerely Dee sought as the legendary King Solomon had done before him. Reverential awe is the beginning of wisdom, because in this state, we cease to rely on our flawed human opinions and open ourselves to spiritual inspiration. In Dee’s case, this was from the Angels themselves. Agrippa (2000) had a similar idea in mind in the passage quoted above.
Third, it’s also worth noting that Gabriel here links this reverential awe state not only to wisdom, but also to rest; indeed, in its pleasurable form of a loving ecstatic absorption, one can happily rest in abiding well-being.
This was precisely the state that the Advaita Vedanta sage Nisargadatta Maharaj (1973) had in mind when he recommended his devotees to “rest in the pure sense of Being, not being this or that, but simply being.” Resting in the pure sense of being is the same as communing with the Divine, which proclaims Eheieh (I Am). This sublimely subtle form of reverential awe is a peaceful state, as well as a pleasurable one, in which the heart is exalted (made ‘holy’) in Divine Presence and worshipful abiding.
Similarly, the Angels tell Dee and Kelley (2003) that:
“God is He whose wisdom unto the world is foolishness, but unto them that fear Him, an everlasting joy, mixed with gladness, and a comfort of life hereafter, partaking infallible joys, with him that is all comeliness and beauty.”
In this way, this reverential awe before the Divine, this opening of oneself to a surrendered, intensely alive, awe-filled state of openness and humility not only empowers our magic and enriches our life here on Earth, but also affords Paradisiacal benefits in the life hereafter.
Whether one believes in such an afterlife or not, it is certainly the case that this state is indeed conducive to the development of wisdom, rest, and empowered magical work in this life, a claim which is demonstrable through practical testing.
Indeed, if one can attain this state of reverential awe and bring it into daily life, mundane life itself takes on an enchanted feeling of spiritual depth, holy/exalted (qadosh) presence, and gratitude which constitute a kind of “Heaven in the Now” in this life” in their own right.
Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).
Indeed, one of the easiest ways to excite this reverential wonder and awe is the contemplation of Beauty, a fact which was well-known to Plato and the Neoplatonists who followed him, such as Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus.
It was also a familiar insight to the Renaissance Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, occultist, and cosmological theorist Giordano Bruno, who, in his De Gli Eroici Furori or On The Heroic Frenzies (1582), writes:
“He who arrives at some most excellent and most beautifully adorned edifice and considers it in each detail, is pleased, contented, and filled with a noble wonder; but then should it happen that he also see the Lord of these images in his incomparably greater beauty, he would abandon every concern and thought of such images, turn and become completely intent upon the contemplation of that Lord.
Such is the difference between the state in which he see the Divine Beauty in its intelligible aspects which are drawn from the Divine Beauty’s effects, operations, designs, shadows, and similitudes, and that other state in which we might be permitted to see it in its own unique being” (Bruno, 2013).
The Reverence that Reveals: Conclusion
As Bruno (2013) knew well, and in conclusion, the entry into Divine reverence via the contemplation of the Beautiful offers another layer of meaning that lies within the “fear of God” that unlocks the potent inner currents of grimoiric magic. This reverential awe is, at its heart, a noble wonder, a state of Divine communion with Beauty itself. And while, as every adolescent male knows all too well, the sight of profound beauty can excite fear, it can also excite wonder and loving absorption.
In this blissful ecstasy, the longings of the human heart and the noblest human capacities for contemplative wonder and spiritual exaltation are mobilized for the completion of the Magician’s aims. By harnessing the most potent of human powers, in the state of reverential awe, therefore, our grimoiric Magic can itself become the most potent it can be.
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Bruno, G. (2013). De Gli Eroici Furori or On the Heroic Frenzies (1582). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Dee, J. (2003). A True and Faithful Relation of What Passed For Many Years Between Dr. John Dee and Some Spirits. Ed. Joseph H. Peterson. [online eBook] Esoterica Archives. Available at: http://www.esotericarchives.com/dee/tfr/tfr1.htm [Accessed 4 June 2018].
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