Over on the Hermetic House of Life Discord server, someone shared a link to Robert Powell’s post “The Arbatel of Magic is NOT for Beginners” on the Logos of Ophiel blog. It’s a well-written take on things, though I believe there are some foundational assumptions and conclusions with which I personally disagree.
Powell appears to write from a largely grimoire purist perspective, maintaining that it is impossible to separate the Arbatel from Christian notions of piety and purity, and holding that asceticism is required for the practice of Arbatel magic. The author writes about his own experiences which led him more deeply into this stance with respect to the Arbatel, and this insight into the personal history behind the author’s conclusions is both welcome and refreshing. That said, while the author’s opinion is likely the correct one for him based on his own experiences, we have to be careful in this work to draw a line between our own experiences and what’s worked for us on the one hand, and what we deem prescriptive on the other.
Based on my own experiences, whenever I encounter assumptions that certain spiritual perspectives or practices are necessary, or that certain parameters of a grimoire must be followed exactly, I always respond by going “oh really?” My own experiences of grimoiric magic have been much more flexible in contrast, and seemingly no less efficacious for it. While Powell notably speaks from a perspective of experience with the system rather than simply parroting inherited prescriptions, I have found in my own practice that there is often both much more leeway within the systems than is apparent from the texts, and much more flexibility than one might initially suspect. In the end, however, the only way to determine whether a particular component of grimoiric magic is truly necessary is to experiment for oneself. I tend to think these frameworks are more flexible than we often give them credit for, based on my own experiences; but this is one of those things I think every magician sort of has to figure out for themselves in their own practice.
As for the Arbatel being “not for beginners”, that’s practically standard boilerplate in my book. Magic will upend your life, no matter how you do it. If you aren’t prepared to roll those dice you should probably reconsider practicing magic—but that’s true of all magic, not just the Arbatel. As long as you’re prepared for some upheaval going into it, as is normal with any magical practice, I don’t see anything in the Powell’s post which appears to me to be anything insurmountable or which seems a significant disincentive to pursuing that practice.
Consequently, I would invite the reader not to be dissuaded from pursuing the Arbatel based on Powell’s post; but rather to consider it an invitation to (cautiously and deliberately) engage further with the source text and tradition, and to experiment with it. Magic is nothing if not experimental, and we make little headway if we are not willing to experiment and innovate. As long as we proceed carefully and with both eyes open, we can allow our own experiences to speak for themselves.