A good chunk of the work I do is conjuration: the summoning, evocation, and invoking of spirits to communicate with me and help me out in my Work, either by having them do something for me externally or empowering or educatingme internally for a particular aim. Conjuration is definitely a primary tool for me: divination, simple energy work, astral sight, and the like all have their place, but I wouldn’t be where or what I am without chatting with the spirits I’ve called up.
The word “conjuration” means “command on oath” or “constrain by spell”, from Latin conjurare, “to swear together, conspire”. It’s a pretty forceful term, come to think of it, and it’s not hard to see why. Look at any text in the Solomonic tradition and you’ll find that the prayers and incantations used to evoke the spirits can be pretty heavy-handed, if not replete with threats, curses, and ultimatums. (For a real good example of this, check out the Bond of Solomon from the Munich Manual, which is ridiculously long and uses basically every divine act in the Old and New Testaments to convince a spirit “hey you, do this now”.) Between “behold your conclusion if you do not obey me”, the Spirit’s Chain, and various other orations from the grimoires, it’s not hard to picture the conjurer or magician as someone in charge of an “enhanced information extraction” torture chamber.
Of course, given that a lot of spirits referred to in the Solomonic tradition are demonic or outright harmful to the magician, you probably do want to be stern with them, but are they harmful because of the magician’s threats, or does the magician threaten them because they’re harmful? It’s an interesting chicken-and-egg problem, not helped any by the fact that most Solomonic magicians in the Western tradition were likely priests or devout Christians who saw any spirit not explicitly an angel of God to be a lacky of Satan. And, as Fr. MC from the Lion’s Den noted in his Crossed Keys, a lot of these spirits are ancient and benevolent, having only committed the crime of not bowing down to the Judeo-Christian God. To be honest, I can’t blame them.
Now, a good occultist friend of mine says that while she likes the work I do, she dislikes that I use conjuration to do it. She’s a big proponent of free will and the ability of choice for all entities (save for predator/prey situations, defense, and necessary facts of life like that), and is barred by her own tradition and powers from doing anything like conjuration. Instead, she appeals to the spirit directly and builds up a relationship with them to ask for their help and favor, or, if something’s causing a serious issue, she appeals to her own higher powers to take care of it. From that point of view, I can certainly understand: it’s often better to ask for permission or help than just outright command something you have no apparent connection to to get something done. It’s more respectful, kind, and appropriate, especially since most of these spirits I deal with are far older than me, my family name, or even humanity, not to mention more powerful.
In other words, it’s as if you worked for a certain company, and I was your boss’ child, and I told you “Get your ass over here and show me this internal report or I’ll tell your boss you done fucked up”. It disrespects you, disregards your tenure in the company, elides the previous work you’ve done, and assumes that it’s in your purview to even do what I asked (or demanded) you do. It also presumes that your boss would even bother listening to me, which may not be a valid assumption based on relevance, acceptibility, and how favored I am with your boss.
At the same time, from the Hermetic point of view, that’s actually exactly what’s going on, but in a different light. From that perspective, we are made in God’s image (ultimate infinite all-encompassing God, not this God or that God) through and through, and even though all things come from God, we’re the only ones to be made like God. Because all things bear a love for God (even if it’s in some crazy, harmful, or demonic way), when they see us, they see a small part of God, and so will obey us as they obey God, though perhaps not as readily or happily. However, as we descended through the spheres and gained more and more density, we also gained more and more power from the spirits of those spheres who wanted to help us and empower us out of love for the First Father.
In other words, it’s as if you’re good friends with my parents, and since you like them and I remind you of them, you’d be willing to help me out if I were to call upon you for a favor or request. It’s really similar to the case above, but phrased and seen like this, it’s not that blatantly disrespectful; I wouldn’t ask you to help me out unless there were already a strong connection and willingness to help. However, I wouldn’t rightly demand that you do something for me, either, since that’d be taking advantage over you who would only want to do me good; disrespecting you would reflect poorly on me by means of my parents, who would disapprove of the way I’d treat you.
In a recent chat with the angel Michael of the Sun, I asked for his thoughts on conjuration in magic and the Work. Now, granted, he’s coming from a soldier’s point of view (right-hand man of God, prince of the heavenly host, etc.), but he made a pretty good point:
All things have a job to do. You can ask them to do it, and if they do it willingly, it is good. When they do not and their job needs to be done, you need to make them do it.
The cosmos is a complete system where everything plays a part, no matter how minute or how grand it may be. If something isn’t doing its job, it needs to get a swift kick in the rear or languish about until it finally decides to do it on its own. In this light, I can see how the efficiency of a well-ordered cosmos would demand the occasional slap on the wrist of a lazy person, but that isn’t always what’s happening in conjuration.
For angels and the like, conjuration’s a fairly straightforward deal. Supposedly (and I’m unsure how much I buy this idea, but let’s go with it), they don’t have free will but only act as emissaries, mouthpieces, and actors for God, hence their etymology as “messenger”. If I ask for something that’s absolutely right out of bounds with God, or not in line with the Will of the Father, they’ll decline, but that’s about the only reason they have for declining. They don’t seem to mind being conjured in the name of God (or in one of the various godnames from the Tree of Life), but that’s because it’s really similar to just directly calling on God and interfacing with a more concrete, non-infinite form of Divinity that’s easier for the human mind to handle and geared specifically for the task at hand.
For other spirits and things that assert their own will and choice, things get a little more hairy. Sure, being made in the image of God definitely gives us a natural boost in authority, and moreso if you actually work for divine might-makes-right. However, we’re also pretty young when it comes to creation, and being the favored child doesn’t always cut it. Personally, I’d always go with an ask-first approach, always paying respect and kindness and understanding to the spirits unless they actively try to initiate harm; in that case, the gloves come off.
For instance, the first time I met the local nature spirits in my neighborhood, it wasn’t through a conjuration; instead, it was just by taking a walk and calling out to the forest itself, and letting the genius loci appear to me on their own. In my adaptation of the conjurations from the Lemegeton, I’m only planning on using the first conjuration; I’ll respectfully call upon the goetic spirit (in the name of their rulers and higher powers, yes, but not in an overtly belligerent way), maybe twice or thrice if they do not appear the first time, and after that just be done with it. At the risk of sounding like a fluffy whitelighter, unless the spirit is being a real prick, I don’t want to bust out anything more offensive than “Hey, I’m calling you here, please come, I have the authority to ask for you”. I’ve got no compunction against using weaponry when I need it, but until I get more warlike and experienced in this sort of stuff, I’d rather delay the need for them as long as possible until nothing else will cut it.
What do you think? Do you consider conjuration to be useful for all spirits, even when a polite summons and invitation will do? Do you find conjuration to be anathema and overly heavy-handed in all circumstances? Do you use conjuration for some spirits and other techniques for others?
My perspective is mostly on the angelic side, but I think of the heavenly hierarchy as acting similar to a corporation or a university. Initially, I may use a formal conjuration to introduce myself and show my credentials, but over time I drop the official conjuration and work out easier ways for both the spirit and myself to communicate.
I assume it would be the same way if i worked with more sublunary spirits. I do think politeness goes a very long way and that many of the calls are extremely heavy-handed. I’d prefer to stick to right-speech principles, but it’s good to have the backup of more forceful methods if you’re working with someone dangerous. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
I am of the same outlook as your friend in that I dislike the idea of forcing our will onto a spirit. There are so many spirits out there that one will always be found that will help. There are three ways I see that working with a spirit is good: working in partnership to a certain aim; honouring the spirit; doing a trade. In all these three relationships there is no enslavement of the other.
The research and experimentation I have done so far indicate that it’s definitely something that varies between one spirit (or one class of spirits) and the next. The powers named in the angelic grimoires, the Legemeton, and what have you, seem to prefer certain forms: they like to be ordered in the name of their “superior officers” or threatened in the tradition of Egyptian magic which predates Hermetics in any recognizable form. Other spirits will smite the fuck out of you if you dare approach them without the utmost humility. Still other spirits react differently depending on (as far as I can tell) the mood they’re in when they’re approached.
For myself, I find the ordering about and threatening thing to be aesthetically distasteful. Visionary and ecstatic trance are the backbone of my practice at this stage in my life, and when I’m not specifically experimenting with conjuration as a skill, my first impulse is always to go visit the spirits in question in their own homes. But within the bounds of the Hermetic tradition, at least, it seems silly to call the elaborate and highly formalized negotiations of conjuration “immoral” just because they look problematic to a third party viewer.
These are, of course, merely working hypotheses. I am still very much at the beginning of my journey.
I’ve been very careful to follow RO’s formularies in the Modern Angelic Grimoire, up until yesterday, when I did a ‘bare’ summoning of personal ancestors, no circle, no nothing. It was… powerful? useful? hard? amazing? I didn’t compel them; they wanted to be there. It was a very different experience from the usual, much-more-formal workings I normally do, and totally worth it. But the ordering and commanding part does feel distasteful. I think you’re right, and it’s probably worth a conversation with the Spirits themselves about why it is that way, and whether there’s a better way.
I remember once when I was doing a lot of Goetic work in a short period I went out to a neighbourhood a jaunt over and needed to do some work. I opened myself and called out to the GL, and then without thinking started a Solomonic command for it to appear before me. Felt it retreat with a “fuck off” sense. Not all things can/should be commanded.
I dislike the heavy handed nature of most conjurations. Like Michael, I believe everything has it’s role, and most of the spirits in Grimoires know their role, and just need to nudged into performing it. It is rare that I get as heavy handed and threatening as the Grimoires call for, and it’s rarely needed.
I much prefer to work from a position of Authority than threats. The Circle in my learning/style is more of a position of Divine Empowerment and using that you bring things back into their place in the Cosmos, rather than threatening them to do what you want.
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