A student of Sosyete Mouton Nwa recently conversed with me concerning their work with eight pygmy Spirits described in The Harrowing of Hell, a grimoire allegedly transcribed by none other that Dr. Johann Faust, 1505. Despite any misgivings we might have about its author’s existence, as with the authorship of the Solomonic cycles, the rituals described are nevertheless wholly valid. I admit to not having worked this grimoire myself, but am given to understand it is popular among practitioners of Palo Mayombe, and the attribution of the Spirits as Ancestral (dead) Pygmy Lords arguably has sound founding. The most important aspect is of course whether the rituals in the grimoire work, and of what confirmation we might expect to see of our success. In the case of our Sosyete child this was seen almost immediately through dream, as is not uncommon with Spirit work, but exceptionally in this case the dream was not one experienced by our summoner but by a friend of theirs; they dreamed firstly on witnessing the summoner throwing around snakes, and then of a group of pygmies who shouted her name to wake her up – which she did.
The popularity of certain grimoires among practitioners of African magick should be no surprise to us. Although some might argue that these are ‘outside’ influences there is also a strong argument that much knowledge passed through the grimoire traditions has its roots in African magic. Consider, for example, the Goetic evocations with their sacred names and the Graeco-Egyptian (ultimately the Neteru of Khemet ie the ‘gods’ of ancient Egypt) formulae of the Bornless (or ‘Headless’) One, popularized as an alternative Goetic ritual by ‘The Great Charlatan SickSickSick’ Al Crowley (Edward Alexander) but originally published in 1852 by Charles Wycliffe Goodwin for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. Wycliffe’s translation is as follows (some of the original text is missing):
An address to the god drawn upon the letter.
I call thee, the headless one, that didst create earth and heaven, that didst create night and day, thee the creator of light and darkness. Though art Osoronnophris, whom no man hath seen at any time; though art Iabas, though art Iapos, though has distinguished the just and the unjust, though didst make female and male, though didst produce seeds and fruits, though didst make men to love one another and to hate one another. I am Moses thy prophet, to whom thou didst commit thy mysteries, the ceremonies of Israel; though didst produce the moist and the dry and all manner of food. Listen to me: I am an angel of Phapro Osoronnophris; this is thy true name, handed down to the prophets of Israel. Listen to me, …………. ………………………………………………….. hear me and drive away this spirit. I call thee the terrible and invisible god residing in the empty wind,……………….. thou headless one, deliver such an one from the spirit that possesses him…………………. ……………………………………………….. strong one, headless one, deliver such an one from the spirit that possesses him ……………………………………………………… deliver such an one…………………………………….. This is the lord of the gods, this is the lord of the world, this is whom the winds fear, this is he who made voice by his commandment, lord of all things, king, ruler, helper, save this soul ………………………………………………………………… angel of God ……… ……………………………………………….. I am the headless spirit, having sight in my feet, strong, the immortal fire; I am the truth; I am he that hateth that ill-deeds should be done in the world; I am he that lighteneth and thundereth; I am he whose sweat is the shower that falleth upon the earth that it may teem: I am he whose mouth ever burneth; I am the begetter and the bringer forth (?); I am the Grace of the World; my name is the heart girt with a serpent. Come forth and follow.—The celebration of the preceding ceremony.— Write the names upon a piece of new paper, and having extended it over your forehead from one temple to the other, address yourself turning toward the north to the six names, saying: Make all spirits subject to me, so that every spirit of heaven and of the air, upon the earth and under the earth, on dry land and in the water, and every spell and scourge of God, may be obedient to me.—And all the spirits shall be obedient to you. . . .
The eight pygmy Spirits might be rooted in the role of Besz, a mystery I have a deep affinity to and have worked with through invocation to possession and through dream incubation.
The most common depictions of Besz were as a bearded dwarf with pronounced bow legs, prominent genitals and a tail, who is sticking out his tongue while shaking a rattle (‘cha- cha’?). He usually wears a plumed crown and the lion or panther skin associated with the priestcraft. Occasionally he wears the Atef crown and is depicted as a winged deity. He is always, almost uniquely among the Neteru, depicted facing forwards, since full-faced figures were marginal to the normal, ordered world. His demon/animal-human hybrid of characteristics is also appropriate. While it was not uncommon for there to be animalistic associations with Neteru, being depicted as dwarf-like and imperfect is highly unusual. Dwarves were far from ridiculed in Khemt, however.In the ancient necropolises of Giza and Saqqara, dwarves hailing from various professions were depicted on at least 50 tombs. They included jewelry makers, animal or pet handlers, fishermen, entertainers and
dancers, nurses and midwives. Some held more important positions. There were several elite dwarves, who worked for the pharaohs and had lavish burials. One dwarf, named Seneb, was one was honoured with a lavish tomb in a royal cemetery close to the pyramids when he died. The high value placed on dwarfs in ancient Egypt is highlighted by the praise and honour heaped upon Harkhuf, an army general and a high profile official who served two pharaohs, when he returned from an African expedition with precious treasures and a pygmy who performed exotic dances. The child pharaoh at the time was so delighted by this last acquisition that he appointed people to guard the pygmy on his ship voyage back to Egypt, lest he fall into the water.
The dwarf-god Besz had no temples and there were no priests ordained in his name but his worship goes back at least as far as the 1700s BCE, Egypt’s Middle Kingdom. He was one of the most popular gods of Khemet, often depicted on household items such as furniture, mirrors and cosmetics containers and applicators as well as magical wands and knives. He was a complex being who during different periods was seen both a deity and a demon. He was a god of war, yet he was also a god of childbirth, protector of children and guard against nightmares, at other times a god of music, dance, merriment, and of the nuptial bed, and was believed to bring good luck to newly married couples. At other times, Besz also was a deity presiding over inebriation. It was very common for people to wear an amulet with Besz’s image. Archeologists have recovered numerous Besz masks and costumes that may have been the property of professional entertainers. His cult spread all around the Mediterranean, reaching its peak during the Roman era; Besz became the mascot of the Roman military, who depicted him in armour with a sword and shield. After the advent of Christianity Besz finally got his own priesthood; the oracles of Abydos, where he was said to have guarded the corpse of the Osiris. Besz’s popularity continued to grow exponentially throughout this period until Emperor Constantius II banned his cult in 359 CE.
Dream incubation chambers (for communing with the Neteru in dream) often had images of Besz and a naked goddess on the walls, making him perhaps also the first erotic ‘incubus’. Prostitutes were known to get tattoos of Besz on their thighs as protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Ten or so deities and demons sharing characteristics with Besz became conflated with him. In one of his earlier forms, Besz was known as Aha, meaning Warrior, and is shown strangling snakes with his bare hands. Besz also sometimes appeared on amulets and stele alongside the young Horus and inscriptions intended to protect against cippi (snake bites). The two gods also formed the composite deity Hor-Besz, even although Beset – Besz’s wife during the Roman era – was also described as Horus’ mother. He became part of the Horus myth, protecting the falcon-headed infant from Set. In another protector role, the dwarf god adorned mammisi, the birth houses that honored infant deities such as Horus. A prayer called simply The Spell of the Dwarf was spoken four times over a clay dwarf by a woman in labour: “O good dwarf, come, because of the one who sent you…come down placenta, come down placenta, come down!”
Besz was also married with Hathor, who was also described as the mother or wife of Horus, and is among the few other Neteru to be commonly depicted as facing towards us. Hathor was known as the Lady of Punt, and was also a mystery of childbirth, dancing and music who shared many iconographic symbols with Besz. If a baby laughed or smiled for no reason, it was said that Besz must be nearby, pulling funny faces.
Besz was also sometimes depicted with feline or leonine features, giving him a further link to Hathor who was herself very closely associated with Bast, Sekhmet, and the Eye of Ra. Furthermore, his name may be derived from the Nubian word for cat, besa. In Voodoo we understand that the Mysteries are older than humankind and so first had animal forms. It may be that Besz was traditionally understood to have shape-changing abilities.
Besz was often also married to Tawret, the hippo goddess who offered protection during labour). Besz was also associated with a number of other powerful Neteru including Amun, Min, and Reshep. His likeness is even found in the ruins of Amarna, where Pharaoh Akhenaten forbid all worship besides that of the sun disk, Aten. It may have been that the Neterus each had their own Besz, just as we understand that each Mystery can be said to have its own Exu-Legba. Indeed, in my own work Besz has manifested as an Exu messenger, correlating also in Neuromancy with the amygdala, sometimes called the ‘dwarf brain’, understood to be the integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour, and motivation..
The London magician and accomplished artist Austin Osman Spare also had an affinity with Besz. Kenneth Grant, writing in his introduction to Spare’s 1949 exhibition, referred to Spare’s concept of Besz as follows; “.. Spare’s ability to see unflinchingly the vision of the Soul of Form – the Besz Mass of Matter with which he is, and has been, continually preoccupied. He is not looking to unmask the soul of spirit, but the soul of sense, of the earth-lust essence which goes to compose the faces, the eyes, the lips..”
Although the ritual from The Harrowing of Hell follows the classical formulae of evocation I have not personally found in necessary to bully Besz with divine names or words of power. Instead my approach has been simply to build a small shrine to him by my bedside. Prayers to him for erotic dreams, virility, health, and general hedonism have often been answered swiftly, and he can also carry messages to other Mysteries asking for their intercession.