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Barbarous Names

From Thelemapedia

Barbarous Names is a generic term applied to the long strings of unintelligible words often found in the rituals of antiquity and medieval grimoires. Here is a typical example from The Grimoire of Armadel:


As in the example shown, it is common for much of the content of a given string of Barbarous Names to be corrupted Hebrew and/or Greek names and titles of God. Crowley wrote in "Eleusis" (Epilogue and Dedication of Collected Works, 1906):

I am ashamed to say that I have devoted considerable time to the absurd task of finding meanings for, and tracing the corruptions of, the "barbarous names of evocation" which occur in nearly all conjurations, and which Zoroaster warns his pupils not to change, because "they are names divine, having in the sacred rites a power ineffable."
The fact is that many such names are indeed corruptions of divine names. We may trace Eheieh in Eie, Abraxas in Abrae, Tetragrammaton in Jehovah.
But this, an initiate knows, is quite contrary to the true theory.
It is because the names are senseless that they are effective. If a man is really praying he can't bring himself to utter ridiculous things to his God, just as Mark Twain observes that one "cannot pray a lie." So that it is a sublime test of faith to utter either a lie or a jest, this with reverence, and that with conviction. Achieve it; the one becomes the truth, the other a formula of power. Hence the real value of the Egyptian ritual by which the theurgist identified himself with the power he invoked. Modern neophytes should not (we think) use the old conjurations with their barbarous names, because, imperfectly understanding the same, they may superstitiously attribute some real power to them; we shall rather advise "Jack and Jill went up the hill," "From Greenland's icy mountains," and such, with which it is impossible for the normal mind to associate a feeling of reverence.

Despite this caution on Crowley's part, he included a rather classical passage of Barbarous Names at the end of the Ceremony of the Opening of the Veil in his Gnostic Mass. He had earlier made the Barbarous Names of the "Preliminary Invocation of the Goetia" a central feature of the ritual he used to invoke his Holy Guardian Angel. (This ritual was later documented as "Liber Samekh," and included as an appendix to Magick.) Crowley concluded that "the most potent conjurations are those in an ancient and perhaps forgotten language, or even those couched in a corrupt and possibly meaningless jargon." (Magick, p. 187)

Barbarous Names used in evocation serve the purpose of exalting the mind from the vulgar world through a release from rational, discursive thought. They are a mechanism for provoking ecstatic consciousness.


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