This article draws heavily on concepts suggested by Alan A. Young in an essay he provided to me more than 25 years ago. I no longer have the essay, and he lost it in a computer disaster, but this is my riff on his basic concepts. Thanks, Alan!
Our Atheopagan approach to “magic” is that it is psychological: we do rituals to change our consciousness, address our issues, heal our wounds and focus our intentions. We understand that this does not change the physical world, but it changes our internal worlds, and by so doing can lead us to make substantive changes in our lives.
Most (but not all) Atheopagans choose not to place human-like faces over the Powers and issues we work with through our ritual practices. We are thus non-theists in both senses of the term: not only do we not believe in personalized gods, we do not use them or their mythologies as symbols or archetypes in our ritual work.
However, doing so can be very powerful. There are times when it is effective and natural to want to come “face to face” with the Thing one contends with, whether it’s a particular fear, or addiction, or a blockage in progress of some sort. This post is intended to guide the Atheopagan reader through conceptualization, creation and working with such a personified force/issue/experience, through the useful metaphor of demonology.
Besides just being witchy and cool, interacting with these personified aspects as “demons” gives us an established set of traditional protocols for dealing with them. We know, for example, that the proper way to engage with a demon is to summon, bind, compel, dispel, etc. We can use this traditional imagery to good effect in our psychological ritual work.*
Note that this is a complicated ritual process, and it will take time. That’s a GOOD thing: it means that it cannot be undertaken lightly and it is more likely to have a powerful effect.
FIRST: Personalizing the Shadow Aspect/creating a Demon
Visualizing a Demon: A demon is a psychological complex: an interrelated set of ideas and emotions. “My fear about looking for a job” might be a demon. “My mother’s critical voice” could be one, too, or “My sense of not deserving what I really want”, or “my addiction” or “my creative block”. Note that each of these descriptions begins with “my”–a demon is a product of the psyche of the practitioner, and should be related with as such. No “demon” has power beyond what the practitioner ascribes to it, and at the end of the day the practitioner is always in charge.
Identifying a Demon: A demon should be assigned both a name and a title: “Shantash the Blocker of Writing” or “Xermox the Terror of Trying” or “Bragislak the Compulsion to Eat Sugar” are some examples. To be respectful and to give the ritual process its due honor, it is appropriate to use the name, title, or both in addressing the demon.
NEXT: Working with Demons
Summoning: We all know how this is done! First, develop pertinent sigils that both describe the issues that comprise the demon and also safety and protection. This process could take some time and can be completed over a period of several days if necessary.
When you are ready, ground, center, and create sacred space.
Then, draw a magic circle (perhaps in chalk, or even just in a powder like salt or baking soda) and inscribe your sigils around it. Stand OUTSIDE of the circle, call the name and title of the demon three times, and ring a bell.
Now imagine the presence of the demon inside the circle. Visualize what it looks like, what it sounds like. If it doesn’t work the first time, put something to draw the demon inside the circle: a gift, an offering…a lure. Something it would want. Perhaps an action on your part–but be sure not to offer anything you don’t want to give up.
When the demon “appears” to you, greet it formally and respectfully.
Binding: The next step is to bind the demon. Tell it that it cannot leave the magic circle, and that it is subject to your power. It must cooperate with you to be freed. It must make an agreement with you. “I bind you in the name of my mental health and physical well-being. I bind you by the sigils of this circle, by the power of my personal authority and self-determination to listen, to deal fairly, to form a pact with me.”
Compelling/Bargaining: This is the meat of the ritual, the core of the work. This is a conversation with the demon, negotiating an agreement about what the demon will do for you in exchange for being released. You can speak both sides of the conversation. It may help to move back and forth between inside the magic circle you have inscribed (to speak the part of the demon) and outside of it to speak your own part.
Dispelling: Dispelling a demon is sending it away from you. It may be free, but it has to leave you alone until you summon it again. “I dispel you, (NAME AND TITLE OF DEMON), and send you from me until such time as I summon you THREE TIMES, no fewer and no more. Fly from me and keep your bargain!”
Banishing: a banishing is a permanent dispelling of a demon. This is not to be undertaken lightly, as if there is ANY chance you will need the assistance of the demon again, you probably want to dispel it rather than banish it. A formal banishing is typically accomplished through creation of a seal, a complex sigil containing the meaning that the demon is to be banished forever. This seal can be carried–in a wallet, say, or a purse, or it can be placed on the practitioner’s Focus. Typically, carrying or displaying the seal is required for a year and a day before the banishment is permanent.
Please note: this is powerful work. It should not be undertaken lightly, and it is important that its logic be carried out precisely because the subconscious mind is tricky and may sabotage the intention of the ritual if it isn’t.
Remember that there are many ways to ritually approach our needs. This kind of work will appeal to some and not to others. But if personification of the subject matter of your work is something that works for you, consider giving Atheopagan “demonology” a try,
*Naturally, this same process can be envisioned in the sense of creating “guides” or “allies” which are beneficent toward the practitioner. I don’t discuss this here, but this is entirely possible: defining, naming, and establishing a relationship with an imagined “being” which can serve as an encouraging support in times of challenge.
Illustration: a 14th century illustration of demons from an Arabic magical manuscript.