Monday, December 13, 2010

A Brief Overview of Sigil Magick

Sigil - pronounced like “sidjel.”

Sigil Magick is defined as a magickal system that makes use of occult characters, diagrams, condensed verbal intentions, geometric symbols, mystical alphabets, angular signatures of spirits and other kinds of symbolic or hieroglyphic representations. The word sigil comes from the Latin word sigilum, which means “seal.” Of additional significance is the Hebrew word SGULH or sagulah, which means “some kind of word or action” that has a specific spiritual or magickal impact. The use of sigils in magick has its roots in antiquity, possibly from Hebrew sources, since sigils often accompanied magickal squares, which were used extensively in the Jewish tradition of ceremonial magick.

Most often, sigils, or specialized characters, were incorporated into grimoires and had a traditional use, requiring the wielder to copy them exactly as depicted, even though they had to have been invented by someone at some point in history. These kinds of sigils were carefully crafted using very specific techniques (and not derived from either imagination or revelation), but the methodology used for their creation is typically missing from those same works. (A good example that shows how these sigils were developed can be found in Donald Tyson’s version of “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” originally written by Agrippa - particularly Appendix V on Magick Squares (Llewellyn 1997).)

Some believe that magickal sigils or characters have a power and potency all to themselves, others believe that a sigil has to be activated, at the very least, by the imagination and will of a trained and competent magician. Some grimoires are notorious for the sigils and characters that they contain, lending weight to the superstition that sigils have an independent volition quite separate from whoever invented or wields them. Most often, sigils are reputed to be the specialized symbolic names of angels, demons or various spirits, and the sigil is used to summon and evoke them. This makes a sigil similar in some ways to the “Veve” as found in Haitian Vodoun. Still, sigils used as the symbolic name of a spirit assumes that the sigil is a more pure and direct representation of that spirit’s true nature, and of course, whoever knows the “true” name or nature of a spirit has direct power over it.

When I perform an invocation or an evocation, I will employ a sigil crafted from the name of the target spirit. That sigil can be derived from a number of sources, but I generally use the Rose diagram from the Golden Dawn Rose Cross, which has the Hebrew letters drawn on the three concentric circles of petals, representing the triple division of those same letters (3 mother letters, 7 double letters and 12 single letters). One could also derive a spirit sigil from one of the appropriate magickal planetary squares, depending on the spirit’s hierarchical association, since there are different squares for each of the seven planets. There is also the Aiq Bkr magickal square that can be used to craft a sigil from a spirit’s name.

Essentially, a sigil is a visual magickal sign of some sort, whether it’s taken from some traditional body of magickal lore (grimoire or tradition), or created by the magician to represent the name of a spirit or to encapsulate a specific intention or desire. Manufacturing sigils became the hallmark of the famous British witch and sorcerer, Austin Osman Spare, who proposed a system of creating sigils by condensing and extracting the forms of the letters from a phrase that stated the magician’s intent. Spare called this methodology “sigilization,” and it was later adopted by Chaos magicians and others who use it as an independent system of magick. Sigilization is employed for casting spells, organizing and deploying an “alphabet of desire” for the same, or building up thought forms. However, it is probably one of the most direct and useful methods for creating a magickal link that I ever seen or experienced.

First, let me define what a magickal link is, and why it’s important in certain kinds of ritual magick. A link is employed whenever a magician seeks to make something happen in the material world. It is usually tangible in some manner and it should model or symbolize the magician’s intention. A link is a symbolic quality that establishes a connection between the magician, his desire, the magickal power raised and the intended target, whatever that happens to be.

In archaic forms of magick, the link was usually something that was directly “linked” or attached at some point to the target, such as hair, finger nail parings, blood, jewelry or clothing, if the target was to be a person. If the target was more general, then the link consisted of herbs, power objects (stones, crystals, odd shaped pieces of wood), bird or animal parts (or even human parts), bits of metal (magnets, nails) or other curious odds and ends collected while on the hunt for internal occult connections. A table of correspondences would also help the magician sort out and select analogous items consisting of colors, incense, herbs, gem stones, precious and semi-precious metals - the list is nearly endless.

These various objects would be put together in an artistic manner to symbolize the intent, such as piercing an apple with rusty nails, piercing dried organs or herbs with thorns, or creating a poppet or miniature human shape out of wax or some tuber, adorning it with bits of hair, finger nails or cloth, and then baptizing and naming it for the intended target. The objects would be blessed, charged, assembled, and the final product would be used in a spell to make something happen. The completed link object could be put in a metal container or a bottle, a leather or cloth pouch, and either kept, buried or burned. In some cases words could be printed on the object, or perhaps even a scrap of cloth or paper could be used to contain drawings and words or names. In antiquity, curses were drawn and written out on lead sheets, folded and dropped into a well or stuck between the stones of the victim’s home.

Organic or inorganic links are called “gross links” because they are made from organic or inorganic materials, where the actual physical form and structure determines its use and intended purpose. Writing something down on a parchment, paper, cloth or a thin sheet of metal is a very different kind of link. A drawing or writing represents a transitional kind of magickal object, becoming more of what I call a symbolic link, since it uses symbolic forms to depict and establish the link.

A symbolic link is more versatile than a gross link, which is normally used just once. A symbolic link often caries no trace of any previous spell on it, so it can be reused for other purposes. A link that could be fashioned to be used multiple times would require that the original intent was the same. For instance, you could fashion a symbolic link for acquiring money, use it for yourself, and then at another time, use it for a friend. So long as there were no identifying factors or names, a general symbolic link can serve multiple purposes.

In the energy model or theory of magick, a link is used to imprint the raised energy before it’s exteriorized to fulfill the magician’s intention. The raised energy can be highly qualified, or not, but it still has to be imprinted with the magician’s desire. In the system of magick that I use, a sigil is employed to facilitate the instrumentation of a link. The act of imprinting the energy is where the magician wills the link, in the form of a sigil, and the raised energy into a unified field. (This technique will be discussed in more detail later in another section.)

Crafting a sigil to be used as a link doesn’t usually trigger it’s inherent effect or cause the desire to become manifest by itself. This is because one needs to charge or consecrate the sigil after fashioning it, and then apply it as a link within a magickal working where the energy is raised. Others may perform sigil magick as an independent magickal mechanism, so in that situation it’s possible that the act of crafting it might actually trigger the spell.

Since it is my habit to always craft a sigil just prior to performing a working (and I have never, to my knowledge, crafted one without it being used in a working), it would be difficult for me to judge whether the act of crafting the sigil prematurely triggered a working. I just know that in order for a ritual working to be successful, a link must be fashioned and used to imprint the energy. The two magickal operations performed sequentially are being blended together, but it’s possible to fulfill a working with just the internalized application of the link. Now that I have explained how I use sigilization in my magickal workings, I should probably describe how to actually craft a sigil.

The general rule for crafting a sigil is to start out by writing a phrase that encapsulates the intention of the rite. It should be written in upper case, then the phrase is reduced to a simple pictographic diagram through a process of reduction and simplification, where the curves, lines, and intersected forms of those actual letters are reduced to a unique set and reassembled into a kind of logo.

Let’s go through the steps that one would typically follow to produce a sigil, keeping in mind that there are a lot of variations and methods used in this technique. How I do it may not be exactly the same as how others do it, but each practitioner will ultimately find a technique that works for them.

1. Write out a phrase of your intent; make it as simple and specific as possible. You can also eliminate words like “I” or “desire” or “will” from the phrase since that would be redundant. Just state what you intend or seek to make happen.

To make things easier, you will want to print this phrase out in all capital letters, but actually, I prefer to add the nuance of having larger and smaller letters in the mix. Using all caps actually helps to reduce the number of linear forms in the sample of extracted letters.

The act of succinctly stating one’s intention also helps to simplify and refine the intention of a work. It’s better to reduce the intention down to one thing. If you are seeking to make more than one thing happen, then you should employ more than one phrase and then build multiple sigils from them. (It might also be necessary to perform separate workings for each sigil link as well.)

2.  Looking over the phrase, from left to right, eliminate all redundant letters - or letters that occur more than once. Now the phrase should just have all of the unique letters in the order that they first occur.

3. Next, eliminate letters that are variations of each other, for instance, “M” and “W” are analogous to each other. Break out of the letters the various analogous structures, like the cross bar in the “E”, “R”, “F”, “A”, “H” or “G”, the curve in the “B”, ‘C”, “D”, “G”, “J”, “P”, “R”, “S” or “U”, and the vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that are found in the remaining letters. All of the these forms are reduced down to a single form, or dual forms facing left or right. The “O” can become a small circle or it can be fused with the rest of the curves, being a left and right curve joined together. What you have now are just single incidences of multiple structures (essential forms) arrayed in a line, like letters.

4. Assemble the line of essential structural forms together again to create a condensed linear form, which should look something like a pictographic representation or logo of the original phrase. This last step may require several attempts to find a final structure that “looks” elegant and interesting to the eye. You can fashion a single sigil form, or multiple sigils. Using multiple iterations to build a sigil makes for a less cluttered final sigil structure. If you are going to use a name in your sigil, then I would recommend making that a separate sigil form from the actual intention.

The point of this exercise is to produce a final structure that is simplistic, looks something like a pictograph of the intention, and the letters used in the original phrase can still be perceived in the final shape, although this last condition is not as important as creating a memorable pictograph.

I usually have to make four or five passes using this process before I am able to condense the form down to something that is esthetically pleasing and interesting to look at. Austin Spare was something of a graphic genius when it came to this kind representation (he could probably do it automatically and in one pass), but you don’t have to measure your results by that very high standard.

While working out the sigil, I will use a pencil on a scrap of paper, but the final form will be rendered on parchment with a special water-proof ink. It could also be painted on a piece of board, cloth, etched on metal, or even drawn on the floor or wall of your temple. However it is finally done, it will become an important magickal instrument, so the act itself should be executed as if it were a magickal rite, with the intention of the sigil and its associated desire strongly fixated in the mind of the magician.

Once the sigil is crafted, it will need to be consecrated if it’s to be used in a magickal working. This step is not followed by many who use sigilization magick, but this is how I do it, and it keeps the sigil from being too active until its intended use. I will consecrate the sigil with just a spot of lustral water (carefully applied with a wand) and then fumigated over an incense burner just before performing the working. For the sigil of a spirit, I would use consecrated wine, leaving a small stain on the corner as a sign that the sigil parchment has been activated.

Although I don’t actually work sigil magick without also performing a working of some kind, the basic idea behind it is to fill the mind with an emotional charge associated with the desire or intention so that no other thoughts or feelings are possible. This is a type of powerful obsession, often accompanied with a deep focused trance. This mind state is gradually built up through the process of crafting the sigil and then it’s elevated once the sigil is committed to its final form, executed in ink on parchment, or in whatever media is elected. The magician holds the sigil before his sight, focusing on the image of the design (not the words that were used to build it), while the emotional sentiments associated with the spell are worked to a climax. Then the sigil is either destroyed or set aside and promptly forgotten, allowing the image of the sigil to work in one’s unconscious mind. The magician can generate an intensely focused climax in a number of different ways, such as an orgasmic release through sex magick, masturbation, or even assuming Spare’s Death Posture. Yet often just intensely focusing the mind for a period of time and then quickly releasing it, is sufficient to obtain a good result. 

I should probably mention two other methods that are used to create a sigil device. These are the methods of fashioning a mantra or using condensed pictures. The mantra technique is similar to the word based sigil, except the reduced set of letters and vowels are arranged to spell out a magickal word or formula. It will most likely (though not always) be a nonsense word, but it will symbolize a specific intent. It will function as a barbarous magickal word of power, which can be used in a chant or as a mantra. A sigil derived from a picture or symbolic images (such as the symbols for the elements, planets, astrological signs, alchemical symbols, or even international traffic signs) uses the same methodology as stated in steps 3 and 4 for building a word sigil, where the forms are broken apart, condensed and reassembled.

That’s briefly how to formulate and use sigils as links in the discipline of ritual magick. This is based completely on how I do it, so of course, there will be a lot of possible variations. I doubt that two magicians who use this technique do it exactly in the same manner, but I believe that I have revealed the basic steps that most would follow. A more thorough resource on the art of sigil magick is to be found in the book “Practical Sigil Magic” by Frater U.D. (Llewellyn, 1990), which I heartily recommend.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Hmm, you know, I'd never thought of creating a sigil solely as a link to a person (without a specific "spell-like" intent) before. Now that you mention it, though, it seems blindingly obvious. Why not? It would be just like the seal of a spirit, but artificially created, perhaps "enhanced" with the smoke of burning a personal item of the person's, and kept around for any future work you might do with/on/for that person.

    Oh my, I need a pen...

  2. @Pallas, I think what Barrabbas is advocating here is combining the name of the target and the intent together into one sigil, rather than building a separate sigil to act as a link. That being said, I have in the past used sigilized names as symbolic links before and it does work.

    In my own work I like to keep my links and intentions clearly defined rather than trying to combine them. What I do when working with sigils is create a sigil for the intent and then place it into a containment structure along with the link to the target, which can be a sigil, photograph, or whatever. Then I use a mantra method similar to the one outlined above to charge the sigil and send the spell on its way. I've never done much work with purifying or consecrating sigils but it sounds like a technique worth checking out.

    I've had no problem re-using links to particular individuals, though that becomes an issure if your practice is to combine the link and intent together when you make your sigil. Also, if the target of the spell is myself I just hold the sigil rather than bothering with the containment structure and the link because its just easier that way. Direct contact is stronger than any sort of remote link.

    One other point is that I've never found that I need to "forget" a sigil magick working for it to be effective. I've addressed that point at length on my own blog a number of times but it bears repeating because it has become elevated to dogma-like status among many chaos magick practitioners. You should put the sigil away when you're done working with it, but this is mostly just because you want to keep yourself from obsessing over the outcome of your ritual. Obsession will ruin one of these workings most of the time, but there's nothing wrong with simply remembering what you did to cast it.

  3. Thank you Pallas Renatus and Ananael Qaa for your comments.

    However, I believe that in my article above, I did indeed indicate that specific names and specific target information was to be put in a separate sigil, or that one should use a general sigil and through context and the focusing of the will, the specific target is established. Thus the link and the actual identity of the target are not necessarily one and the same.

    For instance, I said this - "A link that could be fashioned to be used multiple times would require that the original intent was the same. For instance, you could fashion a symbolic link for acquiring money, use it for yourself, and then at another time, use it for a friend. So long as there were no identifying factors or names, a general symbolic link can serve multiple purposes."

    And I also said this - "If you are going to use a name in your sigil, then I would recommend making that a separate sigil form from the actual intention."

    So I think that I am presenting something that is a bit more versatile than what you have stated. You are correct, though, the sigil is acting as a symbolic expression of the intention - and this is used to imprint the raised energy field.

    Ananael Qaa - interesting point about forgetting the sigil, and that being dramatically acted out - it is probably an exaggeration meant to eliminate the possibility of obsession, but instead, it has fostered an urban myth. Since I don't actually work sigil magick separately from a magickal working, it's just theory to me. I believe my point was made in a more reasonably manner by saying this -
    "Yet often just intensely focusing the mind for a period of time and then quickly releasing it, is sufficient to obtain a good result."

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the article. There will be more interesting material coming out in the next couple of weeks. Hope to see more of your comments here.