On Witchcraft and the Conjuration of Spirits

When I was but a wee faun, new to the madness-inducing arts and sciences of magic and sorcery, I suffered from a number of very strange ideas, most of which I cannot really tell you where they came from.  One of those ideas which seems particularly strange in retrospect was a strong taboo against “summoning” spirits in any way shape or form.  In all probability, this idea was probably rooted in the fears of the overculture: in the image of doomed, demon-haunted madman who could not banish what he summoned; in stories of spirits enslaved, and the vengeance the wreak upon escape; in horrific stories of possession.

I think, perhaps, that I was also a victim of the neo-Pagan “it’s okay, really, we’re not Satanists” propaganda machine.  You see, I discovered magic in 1993, and was an openly practicing Pagan in 1996.  Those of you who were of an age and inclination to follow the news may remember that period as the years when the Satanic Panic was beginning to decline.  Police and other authorities seemed unable to tell the difference between Wiccans, Vampire LARPers, and actual serial killers.  I seem to remember the websites I found and the books I read all admonishing the neophyte to stay away from anything as dangerous and immoral as conjuration and evocation.  I wish I could cite a source for this, but few of the books I was reading in that era remain in my possession and none of them have come to Indiana with me. 

But however I came to the idea, in my own mind it was an inviolable taboo.  “Summoning” was so wicked that, at a time in my life when I absolutely refused to speak any lie whatsoever, I put off a close friend who wanted to conjure an elemental: promising to aid him as soon as I did “more research”.  All the while, I was hoping that he would figure out on his own how bad an idea it was, knowing that he wouldn’t listen to my warnings and that if I didn’t “help” him, he would find someone else who would.  Part of what reassures me that this idea was not wholly my own is the fact that, sooner rather than later, he came to the desired conclusion: that it was too dangerous an operation to perform.  I would add “at our level of experience”, except that I remember how arrogant we were in our ignorance at seventeen years old.

Although I no longer believe that conjuring spirits is inherently immoral or mortally dangerous.  Certainly conjuration and evocation pose no greater risk to one’s sanity than any other transcendent experience, and are no more dangerous (possibly less so) than spirit-journeys of an astral or shamanic nature.  And I am increasingly skeptical of the idea that a mere magician could force an Archangel or a real demon to do anything it didn’t feel like doing—though the moral concerns of pressing lesser spirits probably still apply.  (And let’s just not get started on the moral ambiguity of creating “elementals” and “servitors”.  That’s too sticky a wicket for my amateur philosophy.  No offense intended to anyone.)

Still, that taboo has lived in my brain for too long: unexamined, not even re-shelved for deconstruction.  It’s left a mark that may well affect my relationship to the spirit-world for the rest of my life.

Has anyone else been exposed to this meme?  The taboo against “summoning”?  If so, have you overcome it?  How?  (Besides simply doing the work.)