Demons and Pagan Gods: Re-evaluating My Stance

by Anna

Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Aaron Leitch, author of several books, including Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, The Angelical Language Volume I and Volume II, and Essential Enochian Grimoire.

Greetings, Goetes!

If you’ve been following my posts lately, you likely know I am in the middle (or, maybe, just the beginning) of an adventure into the realms of goetia. It is, to be completely honest, my first time exploring this side of things. That’s not to say I haven’t made a few scouting missions into the underworld—believe me, I have stories!—but I have always considered myself primarily an “angel worker.” Frankly, my youthful attempts to engage the spirits of the underworld were met with less than stellar results. At some point after I completed the Rite of Abramelin, I asked my Guardian Angel when I could begin working with the spirits and the system of goetia outlined in that grimoire, and was bluntly told, “When you understand what goetia is…” Believe it or not, it would be many, many years before she could break me out of my original (dualist) mindset and see goetia in its true light. And, most amazing of all, very little of what I’ve learned is truly hidden information; most of it was always right out in the open for me to see, if only I hadn’t been blinded by my own reality tunnel.

I’ve been documenting some of the highlights of my learning process. Jake Kent’s Encyclopedia Goetica had a massive impact upon my studies and practice—which you can see in my rather excited review of the Geosophia volumes of that series: From the Greeks to the Grimoires. From there my explorations led me to a rather shocking realization about the actual roles played by Satan, demons, and Hell in the grimoires; which I briefly discussed here and elaborated upon in a lecture I have now given in a couple of different venues.

One of my first major steps into finally working with the chthonic spirits was the performance of a goetic invocation of the Elementals, which I did at two separate Pagan festivals over the course of a year or two. (Visit here and here for more information on those.) In both cases, I called upon the Kings of the four quarters of the world (Oriens, Paymon, Amaymon, and Ariton) to open the gateways and bring the Elementals through. (I was a bit unsure about doing this at first, as I had not known the four Kings to have any direct relationship to the Salamanders, Undines, Sylphs, or Gnomes. However, I would later learn I was very wrong—they have very deep connections (but that’s a subject for another blog!)

Suffice it to say those two invocations opened a veritable floodgate of new insight and information into my life. I began to discover the interrelationships between the spirits of nature (which the grimoires collectively refer to as “Elementals”) and those of the underworld. I finally understood goetia—not as the name of a popular grimoire that lists a few demons, but as an ancient and rich tradition underpinning much of the Western Mysteries. Once that came into focus, I began to see just how goetic even our modern systems of theurgy really are beneath the surface. (Though I haven’t published it as of yet, I have given a lecture at the HOGD about the relationship between the Golden Dawn and goetia—such as our primary initiation rituals taking place in the Hall of the Dead and a Tomb, respectively.)

At long last, my original Neoplatonic dualism was dissolved, and I could see the spirit realm quite a bit clearer. It’s not a place firmly divided between “above” and “below.” There are no strictly celestial entities. The most powerful of the gods and angels nearly always have the ability to come and go in the underworld at will; in fact, that is exactly what makes them the most powerful deities! The spirit world is much more akin to the animal kingdom—just one big chaotic mass of creatures living in an ecosystem. Some of them are big, some of them are smaller, some of them are friendly, and some of them are jerks. And a lot of them are all of these things at once. An entity can appear as an angel in one grimoire, yet be listed as a demon in the next—not due to some mistake on the part of a scribe who didn’t know what he was copying, but simply because that same entity could operate on both levels.

And that brings us to today, and what I wanted to share with you now. You see, when I wrote Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires I was still viewing the world through the lens of dualism. In that book, I describe a universe firmly divided between the celestial and the “infernal” (I wasn’t using the term “chthonic” yet). From that stance, I made a rather strong argument against the common occult idea that demons (or at least a number of them) were originally Pagan deities who have been demonized by Church propaganda. A rather famous example—and one I focus upon in my book—is the Goddess Astarte, who history remembers as a beloved Goddess of love, sex, and motherhood. The writers of the Old Testament, who saw her as a competing deity to their own, demonized her with the name “Ashtoreth”—purported to be the name Astarte modified with the Hebrew vowel-points for their word for “Abomination.” She became a male demon (Christians didn’t believe any spirit or angel could be female), and he seems to embody all the negative aspects of sex and love. My argument was that these two entities cannot be the same being. One is celestial and the other is infernal, one is benevolent and one is evil, one is female and one is male. While I admitted to the obvious historical relationship between Astarte and Ashtoreth, I firmly held to the belief that the Jews and Christians had created a new being in Ashtoreth, divorced from and even directly opposed to Astarte.

But, what if we remove dualism from the equation? If there is no clear distinction between celestial and chthonic, my argument suddenly carries much less weight. They aren’t different entities merely because one is “above” and one is “below.” As I said before, Gods can and do appear in both places at will. So that only leaves me with the second half of my argument: each entity represents polar opposite forces. Both are associated with Venus—but Astarte is everything good about Venus, while the demonized Ashtoreth is everything bad about it. Can a group of people simply take a Great Goddess, declare her a filthy demon, and make it so?

Actually, there may be more to this question than it first appears. Humor me for one moment while I ask a very unique question: Did the Christians demonize her at all? Ok, that’s not fair, because of course they did—they demonized everything. But, what if they aren’t the ones who came up with the demonic attributes for Astarte? What if it was her own worshipers who did that? I bet you didn’t balk at all when, above, I described Astarte as a goddess of love, endeared to her people, did you? Yet, Astarte is essentially the Palestinian form of the Babylonian Ishtar—where she was originally a Goddess of love, sex, and motherhood. Oh—and she was also the goddess who stormed the underworld, banging on its gates and threatening, should they fail to open for her, to cause a freaking zombie apocalypse on the Earth. I quote her: “I will bring up the dead to eat the living. And the dead will outnumber the living.” And when Ishtar returned from conquering the underworld, she returned to her throne surrounded by demons who now served her. When she found her husband sitting on her throne, she had the demons drag him screaming back to the pit.

Y’know…. love, beauty, motherhood…

And that isn’t all. Just look at the Egyptian form of this same Goddess, called Hathor. Once again we find a Goddess of the people, in charge of love and sex and beauty and procreation—and when she got pissed off she went on the warpath and tried to consume the entire world in solar fire. It turns out this wasn’t uncommon for Mother Goddesses, because they weren’t actually goddesses of love at all, but of passion. And that meant they were equally in charge of both love and war.

And it doesn’t stop at Mother Goddesses. As I stated previously, most of the more powerful deities and angels have connections to the underworld—be it Michael or Raphael, Osiris or Ra, Hermes or Persephone, Samael or Lucifer. All of these beings have dual celestial and chthonic forms. These darker underworld forms of the deities were recognized by their worshipers, and it was hardly from an attempt to demonize their gods. These cultures didn’t view the underworld as a place of evil—they celebrated it as the residence of their ancestors. (See, for example, the celebration of the “Day of the Dead” in many cultures around the world.) Sure there were plenty of ugly, dangerous entities who lived down there, too—but they didn’t make up the entirety of the underworld. And the existence of those dangerous entities didn’t make the underworld “evil” any more than the existence of predators in a forest makes the forest “evil.”

But when a god enters the underworld, that god takes on its chthonic aspect. We see this quite plainly in the Greek Magical Papyri, which depicts several Egyptian celestial gods—such as Isis and Osiris—in bestial demonic forms that would be unfamiliar painted on an Egyptian tomb. Yet their existence in the Papyri tells us they were recognized in Egypt, and their magicians/priesthood knew how to work with them.

In the night sky, Astarte is the shining and beautiful Venus star, but when she storms the underworld she suddenly takes on claws, fangs, bat wings, etc. She has to be bigger, badder, and nastier than anything else down there. The ancient cults of Astarte (and Ishtar, Hathor, etc.) recognized this fact, and honored her darker aspects as well as the lighter. (I have little doubt there would have been priests who specialized in one path or another.) Later, misguided Christians would encounter this kind of Pagan observance, declare it “devil worship,” and attempt to destroy it. For instance, have you ever seen a modern Christian’s reaction to a Voodoo ceremony? They can just barely tolerate clean, pretty, Wiccan rituals, but show them a skull or any symbol related to the dead, and they run screaming. Thanks to 2000 years of bad propaganda, the Western mind has been trained to see chthonic symbolism as “evil” and nothing else.

So the Christians may have “demonized” many Pagan gods, but that doesn’t mean they are the ones who came up with the chthonic forms of these deites. The mere existence of an image of Ashtoreth with claws, bat-wings, holding a snake, and riding a rat (as she appears in the Goetia) is not sufficient proof that this “isn’t Astarte.” It may just be a talismanic image of what she looks like in the underworld, assumed to be something evil by Christian scribes. And if that is the case, then it obliterates the remaining leg of my argument against Astarte and Ashtoreth being one and the same. They aren’t separate because one is celestial and one is infernal, and they aren’t separate because the Christians “invented” Ashtoreth whole-cloth. In fact, it now makes much more sense, academically as well as practically, to view Ashtoreth as merely another form of Astarte, who was another form of Ishtar, who was another form of Inanna.

And the same is likely true of other “demonic” entities with Pagan origins, such as Bael (Baal), Ammon (Amen), Haures (Horus), Oriens (Lucifer), Ariton (Enlil), and a host of others who we always assumed were “turned into demons” by the Christians. Apparently, they had demonic faces all along. All the Christians added was the “evil” label.

So, have you explored the chthonic path of your Patron Deity?


Our thanks to Aaron for his guest post! Visit Aaron Leitch’s author page for more information, including articles and his books.


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