Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chthonic vs. Celestial

Jake Stratton-Kent wrote the following explanation of his views on the Goetia as a genre (not just a grimoire in a grimoire). I've found the information Jake presented really useful in discussions with Goetic and Celestial entities alike since first reading it, and he was kind enough to let me post it here.

Chthonic versus Celestial
by Jake Stratton-Kent

All ancient religions differ from modern religions in several major respects. We're used to seeing things from a cultural perspective at least partly defined by what is known as *Revealed Religion*, in which *Revelation* (ultimately in the form of a Book) is received from on high (what we might term the *Celestial* region). The centre of gravity of this type of religion is the Celestial region, even though other realms of experience are considered - such as Earth, Hell and the physical universe in general.

Ancient religions, and 'primitive' religion generally, is significantly different. Collectively they are termed Natural Religion (not to be confused with Nature Religion) which in contrast with Revelation from the Celestial realm evolves from the ground up, via deductive reasoning and observation of the world, including perceived supernatural components. It's centre of gravity is Chthonic - it is notable that the Greeks at every stage of religious development considered the Earth the source of oracular power (contrasting Oracles with Revelations). Note again that this centre of gravity does not exclude consideration of other regions of experience, and thus gods of
thunder, Sun, Moon etc. are not excluded by this focus.

In the subsequent development of Greek religion the Celestial gained in importance, while the Chthonic powers for a long time retained divine status (notwithstanding some unpleasant characters in the underworld and elsewhere). My comparison of goetia with African Traditional Religions is intended to reflect this earlier status, and the chthonic 'centre of gravity' from which it evolved. The comparison is part of an effort to provide a position from which the pre-devaluation form of goetia may be understood in something like its own terms. In the past - whether in traditional sources, later publications or in discussions on the internet - goetia and dealing with the underworld has almost invariably been seen and described in terms of the later 'Revealed Religion' and has assumed the Celestial centre of gravity. That this gives an entirely false idea of how goetia originally operated - prior to devaluation - is obvious once this is taken on board. Otherwise it is very difficult to get past the perspective of Revealed Religion etc. which has prevailed in our culture for upwards of 2000 years.

Additional perspective may be useful: the 'goetia' implicit in my usage is what Cumont called the 'coarse and ancient goetia'; rites which preceded the adoption of supposed Persian 'magic' by the Greeks. That one survived alongside the other does not detract from the fact they had different frames of reference. In later magic goetia is not understood in its own original terms, having become a survival within a host tradition with another perspective. My use of chthonic and
celestial refers to this aspect of the discussion, and as should be obvious I'm interested in recovering the perspective of goetia rather than of the host tradition (with which we're all familiar in various guises).

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