Egil Asprem is part of what seems like a veritable renaissance of matters esoteric from Scandinavian academia; one that is often sympathetic and enthusiastic about their subject matter and its practitioners. Alongside Kennet Granholm, Jesper Aagaard Petersen and Per Faxneld, Asprem is one of several often long-haired, occasionally-bearded Scandinavian academics who you can’t help feeling might have a few black metal albums in their collection and have gone in to academia to legitimately pursue their once youthful interests. As its subtitle indicates, Arguing with Angels is an exploration of the role of Enochian magic in modern and not so modern occulture. As a result, this is not a book that considers the original workings by Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley in any exhaustive detail, but rather looks at how those foundations have been interpreted, reinterpreted, tweaked and expanded by occultists down through the centuries.
Approaches to Enochian magic are defined by Asprem as either purist, perennial, or pragmatic, with purist being a form that sticks strictly to the material from Dee’s diary. The latter two categories could be further defined as eclectic, and it is this description that could be applied to most versions of Enochian magic, whether it’s the Golden Dawn’s presentation of elements of the system as an expression of perennial wisdom with nary a mention of Dee, Crowley’s apparently unique interpretation of the aethyrs as magickal realms, or Gerald and Betty Schueler’s cosmopolitan approach that throws pop physics, yoga, tarot and sex magick into the mix. Asprem shows how the Golden Dawn’s overarching philosophy of personal knowledge and growth downplayed some of the more medieval grimoire stylings of Dee’s original system, with its inclusion of traditional, but somewhat vulgar, techniques, such as finding treasure or transporting a magician to far off lands. This also had an influence on Crowley, for whom the Enochian system was purely employed for self-development, as well as much contemporary magick that has followed on from him.
How the various strands of occultism have dealt with Enochian magic is often indicative of their approach to magick in general, so what is presented here can act as a summary of Western Esotericism shot through an Enochian lens; or shew stone, if you will. Following the Golden Dawn and Crowley, Asprem argues that the next sea change in occultism was sparked by the Satanism of Anton La Vey. This is exemplified by his treatment of the Enochian calls in the Satanic Bible, where they are presented in a disenchanted, secularised way and employed not because they use the language of the angels, but because as a barbarous tongue they, according to La Vey, just work. This pragmatic, relativistic approach, in which something is used because it appeals, rather than because it belongs to any authentic tradition, was subsequently carried through into Chaos Magic and other recent eclectic forms of occultism. While the materialist La Vey may have used the Enochian Calls in the Satanic Bible simply to pad out the page count and meet a publishing deadline, former Church of Satan priest Michael Aquino returned to a more esoteric, though no less eclectic, approach. Enochian played a central role in the communications with the Egyptian god Set that provided the foundation for Aquino’s Temple of Set, with his Greater Black Magic working resuming the type of occult narrative employed by Crowley: received texts, magickal aeons, and magick as fundamentally a form of self-development.
The final chapter of Arguing with Angels, Enochiana Without Borders, is one of the most interesting, simply because it addresses something that is so recent and paradigm-shifting that it remains largely undocumented, namely the growth of Enochian studies online. Asprem details the heady first days of the internet where bulletin board and news-group occultists were some of the earliest of early adapters, before that method of communication gave way to email groups such as the Hollyfield-based Enochian-L and ultimately, the Yahoo! Group Enochian. Having been involved in email groups at their peak, although not Enochian ones, there is a familiarity with Asprem’s description of the method of communication they provided and the ability for disparate voices to come together from across the globe. The digital nature of these communities means that Asprem has a rich archive with which to analyse the state of modern Enochiana, in which figures such a Benjamin Rowe and others were able to write exhaustively and influentially about the subject without worrying about the publishing house gatekeepers of yesteryear.
Several theoretical approaches figure largely in Asprem’s work. The division between the purist and pragmatic expressions of Enochian magic allows for a thorough consideration of the problem of authenticity with occultism. This, in turn, informs discussion of both the disenchantment of magick and the often resulting replacement with a psychologised model. Similarly, the concluding chapter provides a discussion on how occultists see the nature of the angels they are arguing with, whether as literal entities, aspects of the mind, or something else.
Following a summary from Asprem, Arguing with Angels concludes with an appendix of Dor Os Zol Ma Thil (The 12 Black Hands and the falling seats), an Enochian text received by Norwegian occultist Runar Karlsen in 1991. This is a lengthy transmission with an awkward and stilted English translation that I was, at first, looking forward to reading. But now, my bookmark sits resolutely in the middle of it, abandoned due to the torturous nonsensical gibberish of the content. While I’m certainly open to seeing new Enochian material indicative of any living system, I would have hoped it made more sense than sentences like: Visit the holiness within the not-made olive of mine. The Fire enters the whole weeping creation. Visit the man of mine become that man, go forth and feel born. You heard the angel, umm, go forth and feel born; but don’t forget to visit the man of mine first.
As both a survey of Enochiana and occultism in general, this is a valuable, unique work. Asprem clearly has some empathy for, if not a direct connection with, his subject matter, but this does not prevent him from approaching it pragmatically; something that is important when considering a magickal system that involves chatting with angels.
Published by State University of New York Press. ISBN: 978-1-4384-4190-0