Monday, August 10, 2009

Classical Practice of Theurgy and Goetic Evocation

I have decided to include the third section of a treatise entitled “Thoughts About the Old Grimoires” so that I could review the methods and techniques for performing ceremonial magic using the magical tradition of the previous epoch. This section is based on some historical research, as found in the book “The Goetia of Dr. Rudd,” written and translated by Stephen Skinner and David Rankin and published by Golden Hoard Press, 2007, and also based on my conjecture. Since I am a practicing magician, I think that I might be able to readily determine how magic was practiced over half a millennium ago. This does not mean that I have the knowledge or the ability to use the old grimoires as they were written, since I believe that to be impossible.

We should at least cover here the classical methods of practicing theurgy and goetic evocation, as proposed in the old grimoires. Even though the old grimoires represent a very diverse collection of practices compiled over a long period of time, there are certain practices that have became part of a corpus of the ceremonial tradition of magic. Although other and more modern systems exist for the practicing magician to use, understanding what was once practiced is important and does have great relevance to the current practices.

Preparations for the work: The would-be magician has a great deal of work to perform in order to accumulate the specialized and inscribed tools, consecrated talismans, furniture (altars, chairs, stools, kneelers, etc.), incense, charcoal, oils and ointments, wax candles or lamps, vestments, and other regalia or supplies. The location chosen for such work must be a very private place, either outdoors or in a suitable temple room. The talismans are made out of precious and semi precious metals, and the magician’s lamen or pentacles are painted on parchment that is hand cured from a sacrificed lamb. Other preparations are required, some more exotic than others, but all of these items make the operation of invocation difficult to assemble and perform. While some grimoires give the impression that the magician must not stint in any of the required items, it would seem that a failure to produce the effects of the magical work could be blamed on not following the instructions and acquiring the required items exactly as directed. However, it was probably pretty typical that some items were either omitted or substituted without adverse affects.

The magic circle was typically elaborate and carefully deployed exactly as shown in the grimoire. Some grimoires had more simple constructions, and some only a ring inscribed into the earth, if the work was to be performed outside. The circle was the place where the magician performed his art, and if it was loaded with intricate designs and powerful names of God and other Qabbalistic, astrological or magical characters, it was built thus to assist the magician in warding himself and his assistants from the harmful effects of demons, and to a lesser extent, angels. Often the circle was left incomplete and only completed (with chalk) when the magician entered it to begin his work, sealing himself off from all the influences and dangers of supernatural influences. The circle could also be considered a kind of compass round, and a separate triangle of evocation could be placed just outside of the circle at the appropriate compass position, where the conjured spirit would be expected to appear. (See The Goetia of Dr. Rudd, p. 76 -78)

There would be lamps, incense burners and braziers positioned strategically on the magic circle, and these would be fed and cared for by the magician and the assistants. Since everything had to be available to the magician on the inside of the circle, there might also be some furniture to either hold or store all of the supplies required for a working, including places to sit and engage in meditation and contemplation, although most grimoires agree that the conjuration was the very last thing to occur in the long list of tasks that a magician would have to undertake, and that the manifestation, if it were to occur, would do so rather quickly.

The magician would wear consecrated vestments, and usually have a magical ring with the “seal of Solomon” inscribed on it, as well as other talismans, lamen, and pentacles painted on pure parchment. The magician might also be wearing a crown or a diadem headband, a pectoral necklace with a facsimile of the 12 gems signifying the twelve tribes of Israel, magical phylacteries, and even special slippers. All of these items of apparel would have been specially made and consecrated for magical use.

The magician would have at least one handmade book of parchment, and perhaps even two. One book would contain the sigils and characters of the spirits that the magician has already successfully invoked, and the other book would be his ritual workbook, filled with the prayers, exhortations, incantations, invocations and exorcisms - the magician’s personal handwritten grimoire. These books would typically be kept separate, but they could be joined into single book with two sections. In classical evocation, the book of successful invocations would have a white cover, and the workbook of incantations, rites and invocations would have a black cover. The magician’s workbook might also house his magical journal, where he would narrate the date, time and events of his works, and note down anything that transpired, both before and afterwards.

The list of tools varies from all of the grimoires, but the classical sorcerer would have had several at his disposal. There would have been the dagger, sword, wand and staff, working tool (boline), inscribing tool, and even a pair of special knives - one with a white hilt and the other with a black hilt. Each tool would have been hand made during a specific planetary hour and day, and inscribed with magical characters and sigils, so denoting it to be for a purely magical use. In some instances a cup is used to collect the blood from a sacrifice, if that is required, but no other liturgical tools are needed (such as the chalice and the paten). However, many of the magical tools, vestments and talismans might require being sprinkled with holy water, or have a mass said over them, to aid in their consecration.

Prior to the working, the magician and his assistants would be required to undergo a period of spiritual purification and atonement. This would consist of fasting, prayers, undergoing confession and receiving communion (if Christian - otherwise a steadfast observance of the Sabbath and other holy days), bathing (ablutions), meditations and contemplations. There would be special prayers like those written in the grimoire, psalms chosen from the Tenakh or Old Testament, as well as other practices. The magician may also undergo dietary restrictions, like the Lenten fast and meat restrictions, as well as chastity and observing a period of circumscribed behaviors, avoiding the congress of profane individuals and participating in any kind of commerce. In other words, the magician and his accomplices must completely retire from the material world, and focus exclusively on the spiritual one. These activities are strictly observed for at least a month’s time or longer prior to the evening when the magical work was to be started. By the time the magician is ready to perform the work, he and his assistants are completely subsumed by all of the sacred and spiritual activities. The preparation was in itself an ordeal, and was absolutely required by the magician if the work was to be successful. There was no substitution for the spiritual work, unless the magician was looking to gain magical power the easy way, and then would seek a secret but defiled place in which to meet with the Devil and acquire from him a pact.

Some systems of magic, most notably the Book of Abramelin the Mage, required that the magician undergo an ordeal to successfully summon and meet his holy guardian angel. Other grimoires also required some kind of extreme ordeal, like the Beatification in the Sworn Book of Honorius. In whatever forms they were described in the various grimoires, the preparations performed before working magic could be considered powerful ordeals, and required a potent and steadfast faith and belief in the supernatural powers of God and his angels in order to complete them. Such a faith could not abide any doubts or weaknesses, since so much was riding on the production of supernatural phenomena, although whatever occurred would be subjective and perceived only by those who had prepared themselves for the experience. Since the magician performed few other preparations during the work, and apparently just sealed the circle and began the incantations and invocations in the beginning, he had to be well prepared before ever beginning the work.

The magician also had to be knowledgeable of astrology and astronomy, and be able to determine through an analysis of astrological portends the most favorable time to perform the working. He had to observe the astronomical phenomena himself, and he also had to be able to identify the planetary qualities of the season, lunar month, day of the week and even the planetary hours. Performing the working at exactly the right time was just as important as all of the other preparations, and could doom a working, even if everything else was perfectly executed. If the magic involved planetary or zodiacal angels or spirits, knowing the astrological auspices was even more important.

Classical theurgy and evocation has five basic steps that the magician performs in order to successfully complete the magical working. These steps were considered critical to the work, and had to be performed fully and completely. These steps were called in their Latin terminology, consecratio, invocatio, constrictio, ligatio and licentia. (See The Goetia of Dr. Rudd, p. 91 - 94)

Consecratio, or consecratio dei, represented all of the activities that the magician performed to prepare for the work, including sacred baths, aspurging the temple and tools with holy water, burning incense, and performing psalms, prayers and orisens to achieve the favor and benediction of the Godhead, a required state prior to performing the work. These activities would be performed even after the magician had sealed himself up in the magic circle, and might include the preparation and sanctification of the circle, vestments, tools and temple area, as well as burning incense, reciting psalms, and engaging in a final bout of contemplative prayer.

Invocatio was the invocations and incantations that the magician declared once he was safely ensconced in the magic circle, fully vested and prepared for the work. All preparations were minutely addressed and successfully accomplished, and all that was required at this point was to perform the invocation of the spirit, angel or demon. The magician might begin with a general invocation, such as of the angels of the four parts of the world that rule over the air. To invoke a demon, the magician might first invoke one of the corresponding angels of the Ha-Shem, since they were believed to be the rulers of the Goetic demons. Often there were anywhere from one to several invocations, and if the spirit did not appear, then there were even more severe conjurations. However, it was assumed that if the preparations were correct, the timing auspicious, and the integrity and faith of the magician impeccable, then the spirit invoked would materialize in some form or another. The magician could use his talismans and protective lamen to assist in adding greater force to the invocation, but if after a time, the spirit failed to appear, then the magician had to perform either a single or several exorcisms, burn obnoxious herbs and generally banish anything that might have been summoned before breaking the magic circle and leaving the work place.

Constrictio was where the magician constrained the manifesting spirit. He also had to ensure that the spirit was what it claimed to be, or what the magician had summoned in the first place. If a demon was summoned, then the magician had to force it to assume a favorable aspect and to desist in acting in a threatening and evil manner. Constraining the spirit was usually required of a demon, but often the magician had to verify an angelic entity as well, at least to ensure that he was not being deceived by some lesser spirit or demonic influence. The magician used his special ring, talismans, pentacles, and various words of power to constrain the spirit. Once this was accomplished, the invocation process was considered to be stable, and the magician could move on to the objective of his work.

Ligatio was the act of binding the spirit, usually with an oath, words of power, threats (if it were a demon), to perform a task suited to its nature, and for it to be accomplished in a specific duration. Binding a spirit could be considered a kind of pact, except that there was no quid pro quo - the spirit obeyed the magician because of his acquired (although temporary) holiness and because of his assumed authority granted by God and his angels. The constraint was performed in a less severe manner with an angel (or not at all), and was extremely important and quite severe with any other spirit, especially a demon. To harness the spirit, the magician also required it to reveal its secret name and mark (usually as a sigil), which the magician noted down in his magical book. The sigil that the magician used to summon the spirit may also be marked or charged in some special manner, and collected later to be kept in the magician’s book. The charged sigil or special name and mark could be used in the future to summon the spirit without all of the required protections and the ordeal of invocation, at any time that the magician desired it. The spirit is constrained to obey the magician, and over time, the magician collects other such names and marks, and his workbook becomes a treasure trove of obedient spiritual servants, ready to do the will of the magician whenever required - at least for the duration of the period stated in the binding. In some situations, a magician may permanently bind a spirit to his will, making his eventual death into an event of instant unbinding of all of the spirits kept in the book. A truly legendary and catastrophic event! The magician might also constrain the spirit to reside in a receptacle, such as a sealed lamp or brass jug, to be available whenever commanded to appear.

Licentia was the license to depart that the magician gave to the spirit once it had been properly bound. It was important for the magician to understand that the spirit was to be treated with some respect, and that he would not therefore perform any kind of banishing if the binding of that spirit was successful. The idea was to conditionally allow the spirit to return to its natural abode, there to await future summons and willed appearances. The license to depart was therefore quite different than performing a banishment or an exorcism, which would only be performed if the magician either failed to manifest the spirit or failed to constrain it. Once the spirit was properly and completely departed via the license, the magician might perform banishments and exorcisms to ensure that nothing else was lurking outside of the magic circle.

In addition to the above five steps, the magician might also perform banishments and exorcisms in case the operation fails, or they could be performed before the invocation and afterwards, to ensure that nothing is summoned that doesn’t conform to the purpose and will of the magician. All of the verbiage of these various invocations, constraints, licenses to depart, exorcisms and banishments would be kept in the magician’s black book. Although the magician should memorize all aspects of the operation, he may not have recourse to all of the actions contained in the book, and he might also find himself under extreme duress or supernatural attack, and having the words written down would be a form of insurance, and it would also be a form of magic itself.

For scrying and performing divinition, the magician might only perform the consecrations and the invocations, especially if the scrying is to be done with angels. Any work with demons, whether it be through scrying or evocation would require the magician to successfully perform all five of the above steps. Divination might be consulted after a working, and also the magician would be expected to maintain a slightly less regimen of consecration during the period that the spirit is active, according to the binding and the nature of the constraint. The magician might also celebrate a successful working with some exoteric religious activity, such as hiring a priest to say a special mass, performing some amount of special spiritual services, or even penance, etc.

The above five steps would require a great deal of time and resources, and a very orthodox religious life and personal habits. Even though the old grimoires have spells, talismans and spirits that could be used to acquire things in life in a less than moral fashion, it would be assumed that such activities would imperil the magician in regards to any future operations. He might be able to coerce the spirits into revealing hidden treasures, influencing high placed men, knowing the future, and performing lesser miracles, but he could not engage in immoral or illegal activity, and would have to use his magically acquired wisdom, power and wealth to the greater benefit of his fellow men. Otherwise, he would lose his self acclaimed holiness and Godlike authority, and that would make him greatly vulnerable to supernatural reprisal, or cause to unbind his angelic or demonic servants. If, however, the magician was operating under the aegis of a demonic pact, then he could engage in any immoral activities with impunity, or at least as long as his pact stipulated such a pro bono relationship. Either way, immoral actions had a powerful corrupting effect on the magician, and would usually lead to his downfall, either sooner or later.

The magician performed his magic at the whim and indulgence of God, and his powers and spiritual authority were considered ephemeral and dangerously precarious. Perhaps this is why the legend of the great magician is always a morality story, showing that human hubris, pride and self-delusion has its rewards as eternal damnation, even though the magician seems to accomplish great feats in the short term. Since the magician is fated to fall, no matter how pious and self-righteous he is, it would seem that performing magic is a temporary solution, and one that has long term consequences. The ultimate fate of the magician is to either quit performing magic, seek redemption from the church and escape damnation, or to fall in a spectacular manner, becoming a fearful object lesson to others. For the Jewish practitioner, there was a greater degree of ambiguity towards the use and practice of magic, but Jewish cultural legends also talk about magician’s coming to a bad ending as well. Islam also had legends of magicians meeting terrible fates, too.

So it would seem that the only safe practitioner of ceremonial magic was someone who did not belong to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, but then such magic would be of a completely different kind, and not part of our discussion in this article. It would also be a kind of spiritual mind-set that would be even more worlds apart from the writers and compilers of the old grimoires.

Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I've ever seen anyone before try to recreate the scenario of the older practices of magicians as nicely and detailed as this. This would make a very believable and accurate portrayal.

    I have often wondered about the same point you make in your last paragraph. Not only have I pondered for myself the possibility of severe outcomes of those magicians who were of the Abrahamic faiths, but have contemplated the reasons of the common denominator of dogmatic fear that each of those religions teach. Unless the magician truly knows him/herself well and either is completely free of fear based dogma/beliefs and even superstition, disaster/lunacy has a tendency to manifest itself in full because the dogma may be so well entrenched in the subconscious of the practitioner. Not to mention, back then there was no such thing as psychotherapy or psychology. Just a theory.

    Great article :) I much enjoyed.