Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Pedestal in all its Churchy and Grimoiric Flavors

Where were we?  We’re in the middle of discussing the early modern conjuration ritual The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC), attributed to the good abbot of Spanheim, Johannes Trithemius, but which was more likely invented or plagiarized from another more recent source by Francis Barrett in his 1801 work The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer.  Many who are familiar with it either read it directly from Esoteric Archives, came by it through Fr. Rufus Opus (Fr. RO) in either his Red Work series of courses (RWC) or his book Seven Spheres (SS), or came by it through Fr. Ashen Chassan in his book Gateways Through Stone and Circle (Fr. AC and GTSC, respectively).  I’ve been reviewing the tools, techniques, and technology of DSIC for my own purposes as well as to ascertain the general use and style used by other magician in the real world today, and right now, we’re in the middle of focusing on the Table of Practice and how DSIC instructs the table and pedestal to be made.  Last time, we began our investigation by introducing what the Table of Practice generally is, introducing ourselves to DSIC, and talked about the overall form and need for the crystal and which stands on the table.  If you need a refresher, go read the last post!

So we have this crystal ball, and according to the instructions in DSIC:

Procure of a lapidary good clear pellucid crystal, of the bigness of a small orange, i.e. about one inch and a half in diameter; let it be globular or round each way alike; then, when you have got this crystal, fair and clear, without any clouds or specks, get a small plate of pure gold to encompass the crystal round one half; let this be fitted on an ivory or ebony pedestal, as you may see more fully described in the drawing, [figure 1]. Let there be engraved a circle (A) round the crystal with these characters around inside the circle next the crystal:

afterwards the name “Tetragrammaton“. On the other side of the plate let there be engraven “Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael;” which are the four principal angels ruling over the Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury;

This is backed up with the accompanying illustration from DSIC:

We have this crystal, we have a design for it, and we have a description for it, too.  We need to set it in a gold plate “round one half”, but that phrase is a little odd to read and interpret.  This may be interpreted to mean either to set the crystal ball halfway through the plate, such that it sticks out equally from both sides, or that the crystal must be put into a depression on the plate such that the crystal sticks out visibly from one half and is covered by gold on the other.  I’ve only ever seen this latter interpretation discussed twice, once by I forget by whom; doing so would make the crystal look completely gold from the front, and the pure gold backing (if polished and smooth enough) would turn the crystal into a spherical (almost parabolic) mirror of sorts.  This could certainly be the case, and it’s not like mirrors aren’t used in conjuration as a scrying medium, but I’ve only seen one person provide that sort of explanation, and I’ve never seen an example of anyone actually using it.  The other place is Fr. RO himself in his Modern Angelic Grimoire which forms part of RWC, where he describes this as (emphasis in my bold text):

The Crystal used in the Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals was a clear crystal ball an inch and a half in diameter, with a special gold plate covering the bottom half of it. On the gold plate, a Star of David with a Yod in it, a pentagram, a Maltese cross, and Tetragrammaton were engraved. On the other side of the plate, the names Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel were engraved. The side with the symbols was placed against the crystal, and then the gold plate was mounted to a pedestal of ebony or ivory. I’m assuming the plate was molded to the shape of the crystal.

However, that said, the more common (by far) interpretation, which makes more sense to me and which is more popular, is the former: use a thin plate of gold, make a hole in the plate, and set the crystal into the hole such that it’s visible from both sides.

Either way, we must set the plate into a pedestal made of either ivory or ebony; alternatively, from a practical point of view, we set the crystal directly into the pedestal, and then place one gold plate with a hole in the middle around the crystal on the front of the pedestal, and another on the reverse. Either works, so long as the final result looks the same; we want the gold to be visible from both sides of the pedestal, which necessitates it either a large circle cut out from the pedestal for the gold plate and crystal to fit into, or the crystal put into a hole in the wood on a recessed surface and gold being put on either side. The former would be ideal. Why do we need to have the plate, or at least some gold surface, visible from both sides? Because there are inscriptions to be made on the plate on both sides, and it doesn’t make sense for there to be just one plate tacked onto the wood with half the inscriptions visible and the other half hidden by the wood.

How big should the plate be? Based on the image given in DSIC, it doesn’t look all that big compared to the crystal. If the crystal is about 1.5″ in diameter, then using that very image from DSIC as a guide, the plate should be about 2.32″ in diameter, giving us a space of about 0.4″ to write within on the band produced by the plate with the crystal in the middle; this is not a big space. That would make the whole ebony/ivory board into which the plate itself is set something like 3.3″ wide total, and like 5″ tall or so.  Fr. AC’s pedestals, it would seem, are far bigger than what would be recommended according to DSIC; he also appears (just based on general photos without any clear frame of reference besides guessing) to use a larger-sized crystal (despite what he said about the benefits of it being small in the last post) with a bit more ebony wood on all sides of the plate.

On one side of the gold plate (or on the gold plate on one side of the pedestal, depending on how you interpret it) should be written the names of the four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel; interestingly, although Uriel is almost never given to rule over planets, DSIC says that Uriel rules over Venus, though in the table of planetary hours and presiding angels at the end of DSIC, we see Anael instead. I think the ascription of Uriel to Venus, even if interesting, is almost certainly a mistake if not a once-off departure from the usual associations we see of either Uriel or of Venus.

Now, there’s already a problem here; the text says to engrave the names Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael (presumably in that order), while the image from DSIC gives the order (clockwise, starting from the top) Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. I personally like the order given in the image better; this puts Raphael opposing Michael and Gabriel opposing Uriel, which makes elemental sense. If we start at the top of the ring and consider it to be East, then we have it arranged such that Michael of Fire associated with the East (cardinal sign of Fire Aries) and Raphael of Air with the West (Libra) make one axis, while Gabriel of Water with the North (Cancer) and Uriel of Earth with the South (Capricorn) make the other axis; this is shown as the first of three options in the next set of designs. The only issue with this is, if we write the names clockwise around the circle (as indicated by the image in DSIC), this puts Gabriel on the right and Uriel on the left, which makes the angelic directions go counterclockwise. I’m not pleased by that, honestly, but it’s what the image explicitly shows, and I’m willing to trust it for this. If we were to keep a clockwise motion here, we’d have Uriel on the right and Gabriel on the left. Either way, they’re on the same axis, so their elemental relationship is still preserved. Besides, if this plate is facing away from the conjurer, then the directions would still match what we’d expect, with Gabriel then aligned towards the North and Uriel to the South, so it’d still work. We’d just need to face this side away from us when it’s put on the table, and since there’s nothing actually saying how to align the pedestal, this should be fine.

Now, on the other hand, if we take the other order and start with Michael at the right point, then we get (starting from the top) Raphael at the top, Michael at the right, Gabriel at the bottom, and Uriel at the left, which gets us the East-Air Fire-South Water-West Earth-North attribution that’s so common in later occult works (option #2 below). Either works, I suppose, but I prefer the former choice, as it lines up better with the elemental-direction association I use based on cosmic directions of the signs of the Zodiac, and which is already used by Cornelius Agrippa in his Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7). GTSC, however, uses the latter choice of Michael-South, but keeping Michael at the top of the ring (option #3 below).

Personally, I don’t see that big an issue with choosing any one of these options, or another option, so long as you have the names of the four archangels on this side of the gold plate and have them arranged in a way that makes sense to you.

But what about the other side? Since no depiction is given in DSIC, we have to interpret what is specifically meant by:

Let there be engraved a circle round the crystal with these characters around inside the circle next the crystal:

afterwards the name “Tetragrammaton“.

I can see two possible interpretations of this, based on how one wants to interpret the meaning of the word “afterwards”:

  1. We inscribe the hexagram with central Yod, the pentagram, and the cross around the crystal in one “ring”, then the name “Tetragrammaton” around the symbols in a second “ring”.
  2. We inscribe the hexagram with central Yod, the pentagram, the cross, and the name “Tetragrammaton” around the symbols in the same ring.

First, note that the first symbol is one I’m describing as a “hexagram with a central Yod”, referring to the mark made in the center of the hexagram.  Following Fr. RO’s reading, I’m interpreting this as the Hebrew letter Yod, the tenth letter of the Hebrew script, which Agrippa explicitly states is the single-letter name of God (book II, chapter 4), and itself has the numerological value of 10.  This makes sense to me, although DSIC never clearly states what this mark actually is.  Fr. AC in GSTC interprets it as a Daleth, the fourth letter of the Hebrew script, which can represent the four-lettered name of God YHVH, as well as “door”, as in a gate by which spirits may traverse or communicate.  I personally don’t find Fr. AC’s interpretation convincing, but I can see why he might read this as a Daleth and not a Yod, given the lack of clarity in the DSIC illustrations.

What about the name Tetragrammaton? This is a commonly-encountered divine name of God used in plenty of occult works both past and present, and it literally means “[word of] four letters”, referring to the name of God in Judaism, YHVH. Personally, I don’t much like using “Tetragrammaton”, because it seems to me like a euphemism to be used instead of the actual name (like the Hebrew haShem, literally “the Name”, to refer to God and his name indirectly); I’d rather write outיהוה than “Tetragrammaton”. However, I can’t deny that the actual word “Tetragrammaton” is used in other occult texts, and its presence on the wand in DSIC suggests that, no, DSIC really means “Tetragrammaton”. Okay, I guess.

Option #1 seems unlikely, given that the specific phrasing of the design suggests an order, and moreover the narrowness of the ring doesn’t lend itself well to multiple rings. as a variant of option #2, we can split the word “Tetragrammaton” up into three parts (“Tetra”, “Gramma”, “Ton”) and intersperse these three parts between the three symbols: “Tetra” between the hexagram and pentagram, “Gramma” between the pentagram and cross, and “Ton” between the cross and hexagram. Splitting up the word “Tetragrammaton” is seen in other grimoires, after all, and the effect is rather pleasing.

Given the spatial appearance of the plate of gold from the DSIC illustration, we don’t have a lot of space between the crystal and the edge of the gold plate, and we probably don’t want to make the engraving too small, instead keeping it at the same size of font. This is probably the most reasonable case to be made for selecting option #2 as what was most likely meant by DSIC for this side of the gold plate—though, personally speaking, I like the variant of option #2 better, with “Tetragrammaton” interspersed between the symbols. Indeed, this is the very choice that Fr. Ashen Chassan takes in GTSC, though he puts “TETRA” on the left between the cross and hexgram with central Yod, “GRAMMA” on the right between the hexagram with central Yod and pentagram, and “TON” on the bottom between the pentagram and cross, as he showed in a detail on his Facebook page.

However, GTSC also brings up a different design choice altogether when it describes the gold plate: the book says that the two sides of the plate could (or should? it’s unclear from how Fr. Ashen Chassan phrases it) be one side, with the three symbols and Tetragrammaton on the inside closer to the crystal and the four angel names on the outside of the gold plate, as this would “feature the names ‘inside and outside’, not ‘forward and behind'”, which…doesn’t really follow from reading DSIC, which clearly states “on the other side of the plate”. From what this description implies, and using my options #2 and #3 from above for the symbol side as well as the Michael-East angel ring layout, we’d end up with these as potential designs for the single-sided gold plate, if we just wanted to engrave one side of it.

I don’t like either of these at all, to be honest, on top of the fact that I can’t imagine that this is what DSIC is actually suggesting we use, just how the symbol ring option #1 above doesn’t seem likely, and on top of the bit we discussed about the specific placement of angels on the disc to matches up with the direction when facing the reverse side of the pedestal.  But these could be considered options if you wanted to just go with a one-sided plate or if you were using some other kind of pedestal that, for some reason, didn’t have the option of engraving two sides.

As for the overall shape of the pedestal itself, which Fr. AC matches petty closely, the DSIC illustration just shows a…something like a schoolhouse-silhouette-like board, cut out with a little lozenge at the top. Getting the lozenge to be that fine of a point at its bottom while still being anchored to the rest of the board is perilous, so I don’t think it could be that narrow without it being too easily knocked off, but alright, whatever. Above the crystal and plate is engraved another hexagram with another Yod in it, at least on the side of the names of the four angels; there’s nothing showing us what, if anything, should be engraved on the other side.

I also want to point out that DSIC says that the pedestal may be made out of either ebony or ivory; the text treats them as functionally equivalent for this purpose.  Although Fr. AC mentions what DSIC says here about the choice, he only ever considers ebony in GTSC.  For all its difficulty to come by and its expensive nature, ivory is even harder and more difficult to come by, and at greater cost.  For ethical reasons, I can’t really recommend getting ivory to be used for such a pedestal.  However, if you have ethically-sourced ivory of enough stability and quality to use, you could use it if you want.  Ebony matches the use of the wand (which we’ll cover later), but ivory would work as well.

Interestingly, although Fr. AC makes these pedestal with a leg and foot for it to stand higher up (see the picture higher up in the post of one of his creations), that’s not actually depicted here; whether that was considered extra or just an oversight just isn’t known. A simple board doesn’t seem able to support itself very well, so it might be that something would be needed to properly support this pedestal on the table itself, whether some sort of anchor or support or weight; a leg does seem appropriate and necessary. Plus, if we do include a leg for the pedestal, as pointed out to me by my good bromancer Pallas Renatus a few years back, then the pedestal for the crystal and gold plate begins to bear a strong visual similarity to the ostensorium, also known as a monstrance, a vessel used in Catholic and Anglican churches to hold and display the consecrated Eucharistic Host or of other holy relics. In that light, having such a pedestal with a leg makes perfect sense, with the crystal taking the place of the Host, the gold plate taking the place of the sunburst so common in monstrances, and the lozenge at the top taking the place of the surmounting cross or crucifix.

Heck, some monstrances even take the shape of miniature churches or cathedrals themselves, which have the same rough outline as the schoolhouse-silhouette from DSIC:

GTSC mentions that there’s another text, Occult Spells: A Nineteenth Century Grimoire compiled by Frederick Hockley. This text describes a similar device to the DSIC pedestal, though which uses a consecrated beryl, “a kind of chrystal that hath a weak Tincture of red”, i.e. a red emerald, though other magicians may use “a chrystal sphere or mineral pearl for the purpose which is inspected by a boy or sometimes by the querent himself”. Hockley goes on to say that “[this] Beryll is a Perfect Sphere, the diameter I guess to be something more than an inch, it is set in a ring or circle of silver resembling the Meridian of a Globe, the stem of it is about 10 inches high all gilt at the 4 quarters of it and the names of the 4 angels viz, Uriel, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael on the top is a cross patee”. Though not identical to the DSIC apparatus, it is strikingly similar, and gives another idea for some to work with. This still retains the loose idea of a monstrance, too, just of the round sunburst style instead of the cathedral- or church-shaped style that’s implied by DSIC, and might even be closer given its simpler nature and the inclusion of the cross on top.  And remember how we pointed out last time that Agrippa considers both quartz crystal and beryl to be watery materials (book I, chapter 7)!

Since Hockley’s text postdates that of The Magus, I think that this form might well be a derivative or alternative form of what’s presented in DSIC.  As a result, we end up having two forms of the pedestal to play with: the church-shaped monstrance style from DSIC proper, and this sunburst-shaped monstrance style from Occult Spells; fundamentally, it’s the same thing, something to hold aloft the crystal above the table, and the only real difference is the general shape of the ebony or ivory material that supports the plate and crystal. I can’t, however, explain the presence of the hexagram with the central Yod inside from the DSIC image, however, and it’s not mentioned in the text itself. We do know that the DSIC images love to use hexagrams, though; they’re on the wand, circle, lamen, and in the ring of gold itself around the crystal, and DSIC does make repeated use of this hexagram-with-central-Yod design that I don’t really see elsewhere outside DSIC. GTSC uses this symbol on both the front and back of the pedestal, but there’s nothing saying anything about it being on either side, just the depiction of it on the side of the pedestal with the names of the angels (which, as I argued above, would probably be facing away from the magician).

I don’t particularly think much of this, honestly; include it if you want, if you have space on the pedestal above the crystal, at least on the side of the angel names, but if you don’t, I don’t think it’s that much of a loss if you were to omit it or didn’t have space for it. I assume that, if it was actually vital to the device, the text would have said something about it like it does the other symbols and the names. Plus, the symbol is already present on the ring with “Tetragrammaton” on it, so duplicating it again on the same object could just be unnecessary and used as a stylistic thing (and I see some authors like Donald Tyson and Fr. AC argue that duplication is probably a mistake in some of these contexts related to DSIC tool design).  I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think it’s that necessary for the apparatus as a whole to have this stylized hexagram present on the actual pedestal itself outside of the gold plate that holds the crystal.  To my eyes, it’s just an added mark of holiness, perhaps used to fill the otherwise empty space above the crystal so as to use more ebony and give it a more churchy-monstrance look, but I don’t think it’s much more than that.

However, let’s be honest: the construction of the pedestal is nontrivial, and not everyone can make the thing to DSIC spec.  Something Fr. AC notes in GTSC is that John Dee (of Elizabethan and Enochiana fame, of course) “utilized a similar crystal device with a gold band wrapping the stone with a gold cross on top”, and that if the pedestal option seems too difficult, this might well (but not necessarily) suffice.  We have a design from Dee’s original journals of such a design, with the crystal inside a band on some sort of four-footed stand:

Not only does the cross on top give this sort of depiction a monstrancy-kind of flavor, it also ties it visually with the crystal stand present in Hockley’s text above.  After all, whether the crystal is surrounded by a plate of gold or a band of gold, it’s still surrounded by gold, either way, and it’s still doing the same fundamental thing as the stand in DSIC!  This idea for using a band of fold was used by Fr. FC of the Faith From Causation blog for preparing the crystal for their DSIC implementation.  Though they originally started with no housing or encasement for the crystal, they realized that the pedestal or something of the like was important, but instead of the pedestal itself, opted for a gold band to go around the crystal (in their case, made of gold foil paper).  In their writeup of the Trithemian tools, they put the divine names and symbols on the inside of the ring and the four angels on the outside.

This is an appealing substitution, I have to admit, since as Fr. FC states, “some sort of housing can block glare from the candles”.  Personally, if I were to go this route, I’d put the angels on the inside (being “behind” the band) and the divine names and symbols on the outside to match what I described about the orientation of the pedestal above.  Plus, it’d put the angels literally on the crystal, and since the whole point of the ritual is to conjure angels into crystals, it seems like it makes more sense that way to me.  Of course, instead of taking this route, one might use another band like this to act as a stand itself; imagine a cardboard tube (like that used for toilet paper) stood up on its end, with “Tetragrammaton” and the three symbols written on the outside and the four angels written on the outside, and you could have another more-or-less viable substitution for the pedestal—though at the expense of having anything going “around” the crystal itself in space.  It’s another option to consider, at least.

And that’s if you want to have the pedestal at all.  After all, many people who use DSIC (especially in the Fr. RO RWC/SS method) don’t use any sort of pedestal, angelic names, or the like at all: they just plop the crystal right on the table.  Though doing so goes against DSIC’s instructions to use a pedestal with sacred names and symbols and the like, countless people have still gotten abundantly useful results (myself included).  Taking this approach, however, typically involves some changes in how the different bits of equipment are designed and constructed.  This includes making possible changes to the table, and we’ll begin getting into the design of that next time.

3 responses

  1. A thought on the reverse side of the pedestal:

    Rather than being purely decorative or space-filling, if we take the Yod to be the single-letter name of God, à la Agrippa, and the hexagram to be a generalized symbol of Divinity (solar glyphs are always handy if you have to choose just one), then you’ve basically turned the reverse side of the pedestal into a miniature cosmological map, focused on the crystal.

    One letter, one symbol, one Singular God above, radiating downwards to/through the most basic choir of angels (or Kings, if that’s your jam), surrounding and empowering the focal point of the ritual. It’s a bare-bones form of what the table of practice tries to accomplish in Grand form, but extended into the third dimension.

    Which, incidentally, means that when we place the pedestal on the table of practice, this Singular symbol of Divinity is both the centermost, and highest symbol in the whole production.

    • This is a great point! If that notion is what the author/illustrator of DSIC indicated, that would be pretty reasonable, and its placement above the crystal would suffice instead of the cross that we see in Hockley’s diagram as a substitute for the crucifix/cross we typically find in monstrances.

  2. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Four Kings or Four Angels? « The Digital Ambler

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