Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Putting The Table Together

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 continued our talk by figuring out the planetary stuff we needed to fill in around the edge of the table, but due to vague wording and phrasing, it’s not quite clear exactly what planetary stuff is needed, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus on that front.  If you need a refresher, go read the last post!

Now that we have our choice of names, symbols, signs, and everything else out of the way, how do we actually put them all together?  DSIC tells us:

…Let them be all written within a double circle, with a triangle on a table; on which place the crystal on its pedestal: this being done, thy table is complete (as in the Fig. D,) and fit for the calling of the spirits…

The major thrust of this is describing something that surprises nobody: a triangle within a circle.  While I can’t actually cite anyone specifically that might say so (because this is something that I feel is pretty common at this point to say and think), the triangle and circle is pretty much the mainstay of the locus of conjuration.  We see, basically, the same thing in the Triangle of Art from the Lemegeton, just with the circle inside the triangle instead of outside it:

The general thinking on this is that the effectively circle binds the spirit (because the circle is a shape that has no end to its lines, or corners to slip through, but an infinite unbroken boundary), while the triangle (being the first possible polygon with the fewest possible points/lines) helps to give the spirit form.  But, there’s also the fact that the triangle, being a shape with three sides, is also qabbalistically connected by that number to the planet Saturn, which could also suggest making the spirit more obedient and susceptible to our threats and demands.  It’s reminiscent of what Agrippa says in his Fourth Book when dealing with “evil spirits” whose oaths or statements you doubt (book IV, chapter 12):

And after all the courses are finished, then cease a little; and if any Spirit shall appear, let the Invocant turn himself towards the Spirit, and courteously receive him, and earnestly entreating him, let him first require his name, and if he be called by any other name; and then proceeding further, let him ask him whatsoever he will: and if in any thing the Spirit shall shew himself obstinate or lying, let him be bound by convenient conjurations: and if you doubt of any lye, make without the Circle with the consecrated Sword, the figure of a triangle or pentagon, and compel the Spirit to enter into it; and if thou receivest any promise which thou wouldst have to be confirmed with an Oath, let him stretch the sword out of the Circle, and swear the Spirit, by laying his hand upon the Sword.

Here Agrippa uses either a triangle (figure of Saturn) or a pentagon (figure of Mars), though he might also mean “pentagram” instead (but which would suggest a pentagon in its center by virtue of its geometrical shape), and considering the context here, I’d be more inclined to think that the triangle isn’t used so much to help the spirit take physical form as much as it is constrain it, at least according to Agrippa.  Your mileage may vary.  It is interesting, however, that Agrippa describes no such device for working with “good spirits” earlier in the Fourth Book when he mentions how to call upon “good spirits” using either his prayer-based approach or his ecstasy approach (book IV, chapter 10).  (We’ll see more of this weirdness in future posts about the difference in approach between “good spirits” and “evil spirits”.)

All well and good, but there’s that phrase “double circle”.  It seems that everyone who’s worked with Drawing Spirits Into Crystals DSIC, whether or not they use the pedestal, interprets this to mean that there are two rings of names, one for the planets and angels (along with “their seals or characters”), and one for the four elemental kings inside that; this is the form of table that’s used by everyone that I’ve ever seen.  In this system, the four kings are placed evenly spaced on the inner ring aligned with the four elements, typically with Oriens (or Michael) aligned with the Sun towards the East.  For the sake of simplicity for now, let’s use a very basic table design that spells all the names out in the Latin script, uses the four kings instead of the four archangels, and uses only the glyphs of the seven planets along with the names of their corresponding angels:

And, of course, there’s at least one interpretation out there that puts the four kings on the outside, with the seven planets on the inside.  This is certainly a far more uncommon arrangement (most people would cosmologically place the planets “higher up” and the elemental/worldly “further down”), and I’ve only ever seen one such Table of Practice design made by Eryk Adish on Etsy:

But…on a closer reading of the phrasing being used here, and thinking back to other texts that use similar phrasing, I’m not entirely certain that this double-ring-of-names setup is what the text actually implies.  I mean, it makes graphical sense, but “double circle” may not mean two circles of names, but rather, two geometric circles between which the names are written. In this case, I think what DSIC is suggesting is that we have only one ring of names and seals, which is bounded on the outside and on the inside by a circle; these two circles would be the “double circle” within which would be all the things we’d be engraving.

In this case, we’d need to figure out an order for placing the names of the four kings into this, as well, since these things must be given “in order”.  I think we should tie this into the order of the planets we mentioned above, and seeing how the four kings (being representatives of the four elements) come after the planets, it suggests that there’s a notion of density at play here: the further we get along in the order, the denser we get.  This argues in favor of starting with Saturn, then proceeding to Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and then to the Moon, and then the four kings.  What order for the kings?  Keep the order going in terms of density: Oriens (Fire), Paimon (Air), Egyn (Water), Amaymon (Earth).  This would use the elemental domains of the four kings rather than their directions; if we were to go clockwise starting with Oriens in the East (to befit a magician operating in the northern hemisphere to match the passage of the Sun), then we’d have the order of Oriens, Amaymon, Paimon, and Egyn; those in the southern hemisphere might use the reverse order.  Of course, if we were to just use the elemental density order, then it wouldn’t matter where we’d be on Earth.  Fitting the four kings into this descending order of the planets just ties it into a grander descending order of forces of the cosmos, as can be seen in the Cosmographia diagram above (look closely at the elemental patterns in the center of the diagram).

That said, even though that might be a strict interpretation of “let them be all written within a double circle”, that might be a little too strict and literal.  It kinda breaks with this notion we have that the four kings are a species apart from the planetary angels, that the elements of this world are of a different nature than the planets of the spheres above; while, yes, it can be reasoned out to make everything “fit” within one ring of names, it’s probably more graphically pleasing and cosmologically sound to use two rings of names, writing everything essentially “within a triple circle” instead of a double circle, with the planetary engravings on the outer ring and the four kings (or four archangels, if that’s your jam) on the inside.  However, the DSIC text says what it says.

In either case, using either two rings of names or one ring, in the inside of all the above would be the triangle.  Though DSIC doesn’t specify where or how it should be drawn, it makes sense to have the innermost circle circumscribe the triangle.  Given the description in DSIC, there’s nothing to be engraved inside the triangle, nor outside the triangle and inside the inner circle.  This is probably the easiest part to interpret from a lack of depiction and description of the entire DSIC introduction, and completes the construction of the table itself.

In that light, let’s compare the one ring design with the two ring design, with the planetary order of decreasing geocentric distance followed by increasing elemental density.  Let’s agree to use the four kings for this, and for the sake of a simple construction as above, we’ll limit ourselves to using the names of the four kings, the glyphs of the planets, and the names of the the planetary angels, all spelled out in Latin script, with nothing else.  Completed with the innermost triangle, we’d get ourselves two designs like the following:

The first one on the left has the planetary stuff and the four kings given in the conventional layout of, but that second one on the right with just one ring of names “all written within a double circle” follows from a strict and literal interpretation of DSIC, and…it works.  It makes sense.  We start at the bottom and, going clockwise, proceed through the four kings (in order of their corresponding element based on zodiacal direction), then the seven planets/angels, proceeding from the Moon/Gabriel and going up to Saturn/Cassiel.  This works, and is entirely a valid way to construct a table according to the instructions given in DSIC in the absence of any illustration.  Plus, it also reminds me of the conjuration circles used in texts like the Grimorium Verum, Grand Grimoire, and Grimoire of Pope Honorius, though admittedly those were intended for the conjurer to stand in, not for the basis of the conjuration area for the spirit.  Still, using this single-ring approach does make sense, it follows from the DSIC text, and is an entirely valid approach to creating the table.

But, despite its cleanliness and orderliness…it’s taking me a while to like it.  While it does appeal to me, it seems that literally nobody has ever used this interpretation of what “double circle” means.  Not that it’s unbalanced, but it does feel a bit mismatched to put the four kings in the same ring as the seven angels, on top of it probably feeling unfamiliar and with me not recognizing this as a proper table.  I think it would make more graphical sense to more people, at least, to interpret “double circle” as two circles of names, not one ring of names written between two circles, but that’s not a strict and contemporaneous interpretation of DSIC.  For the sake of keeping the conversation going, I’m going to stick to the two-circles-of-names and not one-ring-of-names-in-two-circles design, because that’s what makes the most immediate cosmological and aesthetic sense to me.  That said, if you were to take a single Table of Practice approach that uses the four archangels instead of the four kings…that could well be appropriate.  We said before last post that figuring out what “seals or characters” would be needed for the planetary parts of the table design was the most serious linguistic point of contention, but I stand corrected: it’s this, at least for the table (there are others which we’ll talk about when we get to that point of our DSIC discussion).  Despite putting the lid on the single-ring design, we’ll come back to it at a later time; for now, we’ll stick to the two-ring design, only for the sake of expediency and it’s what everyone already knows, likes, and wants.

But while we’re here, there is one plausible reason I can think of for putting the four kings on the same “level” as the seven planetary angels.  Given their nature, and considering their potentially old predecessors going back to Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian times, this is actually something to consider: the four kings could be considered survivals of the “four winds” from ancient Mesopotamian times, which were considered deities in their own right and on the same level as the planetary gods of those cultures.  If we consider the role of the four kings here and what they’re doing based on what we said before (and consider also Agrippa, book III, chapter 24, my emphasis in bold text: “every one of these Spirits is a great Prince, and hath much power and freedom in the dominion of his own planets, and signs, and in their times, years, months, days, and hours, and in their Elements, and parts of the world, and winds“), and if we consider the role of the seven planetary angels here to channel and distill their respective planetary forces in a way that the kings would the worldly, elemental forces, then it makes sense that the four kings here would be included with the seven planetary angels.  This would mean that the table isn’t necessarily a cosmogram or anything to show how everything is ideally arranged, but that the presence (and support) of the seven planetary angels and four kings of the world would collectively help to channel, focus, and materialize the spirit in the crystal as visibly and physically as possible, lending it a share of all the forces that combine to manifest everything in this world.  In other words, the presence of these spirits isn’t about the actual planetary and elemental forces, but about the spheres of heaven and four corners of the world, using distinctly worldly processes to bring something to manifest within the triangle; consider how the Circle of Art from the Lemegeton has the snake with all the divine names and attributes of the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life curling inward towards the center.

On top of that, the “four winds” of back then were assigned to the four zodiac signs of Scorpio (or Aquila), Aquarius, Taurus, and Leo—the four fixed signs, which later became identified with the four archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, and Michael.  In this light, this means that not only the four kings can (and arguably should) be arranged with the seven planetary angels, but that they would, reaching back to their shared origin, be essentially interchangeable with the four archangels.  Not a bad idea, and another point in favor of those who would use the four archangels instead of the four kings on their DSIC tables.

Anyway, let’s continue.  If we were to go with our earlier design choice of using the planetary glyphs, the planetary characters, the names of the angels, and the names of the kings, with the names written in Latin, we’d get the following for our one ring and two ring forms:

Forgive me for having to bunch up the (more numerous) characters for the Sun and Jupiter, but I didn’t want to rebalance all of the spacing for all this just yet.  The idea is there, though.  You can envision what it’d be like for incorporating the angelic seals, too, based on this; smaller font, smaller characters, and a lot more densely-packed use of space on the outer ring.  But, despite all the complexity here, I think this is closer to what DSIC is actually instructing us to do:

…the table on which the crystal stands the following names, characters, &c. must be drawn in order.  First, The names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters. The names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth. Let them be all written within a double circle, with a triangle on a table…

But, in the end, there you have it.  More table designs for use with DSIC based on different yet equally strict and accurate interpretations of the rather terse instructions given by the text itself.

Whugh.  That took a lot more words, explanation, surveying, and arguing with Adobe Illustrator than I expected, to be sure.

Now, in light of everything above?  Given the lack of explanation of the table in DSIC, as well as the fact that there’s no visual depiction given, along with the level of specificity that is given to the pedestal itself, I want to make the claim that the specific design used for table itself probably doesn’t matter that much, honestly.  It seems like the real focus in DSIC is given to the pedestal supporting the crystal with the names and symbols to be engraved around it, with the table itself being described almost as an afterthought.  In that light, it’s not the table doing the bulk of the protective and spiritual work as far as providing for the right woogity in the ritual (besides the magician themselves, of course), but the pedestal itself.  If we were to actually give credence to the notion that Johannes Trithemius wrote DSIC (and, personally, I don’t), well…recall that he was an abbot, and thus would be more inclined towards religious magic of a higher and more theurgical nature rather than goetia or necromancy, and recall how we likened the pedestal to a monstrance.  In that light, the shape and purpose of the pedestal makes a lot of sense: it’s a monstrance not for displaying the Host or relics, but the presence of actual spirits themselves; the table should be decked out in the signs and symbols of the seven planets and four elements to facilitate the presence of spirits, sure, but beyond that, I don’t know whether DSIC really cares as much about the table as about the pedestal.  Honestly, if somehow you got the money and means to get one, my hunch is that even the use of an actual monstrance that once held a consecrated Host would alone be sufficient, with a crystal or some material held in the chamber, to perform DSIC with, even without a table or names of angels or kings or whatnot; if you can get such a mosntrance and use it on a table, all the better.

Note that I’m not saying that the table doesn’t matter at all; if it didn’t matter, DSIC would probably say as much, or even just decline to mention anything about the table at all.  But so long as the basic idea of the table is there—a triangle circumscribed by two circles, along with planetary names/angels/characters and names of elemental kings (or elemental angels if that’s the route you want to take)—then I think you’ve got enough of what you need to perform the DSIC ritual.  Heck, I’m not 100% convinced (more like 99%) that you need the planetary stuff and the names of the kings at all, honestly, so long as you’ve got the appropriate pedestal made in the appropriate way.  There’s nothing saying you shouldn’t use them, of course, and I’m not making that claim either, but I don’t think it’s as necessary or as important to the spirit of DSIC than having the pedestal.

So, then, why do we focus on the table, or as we like to call it, the Table of Practice?  Because so many of us like simplicity, and let’s be honest: it’s a lot simpler to have a single tool (one Table of Practice) than two tools (table and pedestal), and it’s a lot simpler to have a free-standing crystal ball than having to set it in something else, which requires some specialty crafting skills that not everyone has.  Heck, already not a lot of people have the crafting skills necessary to make even a rudimentary Table of Practice, despite that it’s not that hard to do.  Since DSIC-compatible Tables of Practice began being made about ten years ago, until the advent of Fr. AC’s reintroduction of the pedestal as a separate item, the general approach has largely been focused on combining the designs of the pedestal with the table into a single Table of Practice, and that approach is workable enough, simple enough, and effective enough to do what DSIC claims to do.

Those readers of mine who somehow maintained their mental acuity after all this time that I’m only just now using the phrase “Table of Practice”.  When it comes to the DSIC method on its own terms, of which Fr. AC tends to hit closest to the mark, DSIC says to use both a table and a pedestal; however, when the pedestal and table are combined into something like what Fr. RO (and Fr. Acher, and the Scribbler, and Satyr Magos, and myself, etc.) uses, then you get the Table of Practice.  I’m using the phrase “Table of Practice” to refer to the single-apparatus approach instead of the dual-apparatus approach of table and pedestal, and I think that might help clarify some of the language around all this stuff.

The three symbols of the hexagram with central Yod, the pentagram, and the cross are placed in the corners of the central table triangle, while the use of the name Tetragrammaton tends to get dropped out, though some magicians engrave circularly around the triangle in the gap between the triangle and the (inner) ring of names.  The names of the angels from the pedestal either get left out entirely or replace the names of the four kings, making those names left out; I’ve never seen a Table of Practice that has both the four angels and the four kings.  I’ve seen only one such example of this from Tye, and it puts the names of the angels in the same ring as that of the kings on tyetknot’s Tumblr but in a way that doesn’t follow much with the directions we should see (Raphael in the North?  Uriel in the West?), and though I get the logic behind it, that doesn’t seem to mesh well with me.

But what would it look like if a Table of Practice did have both sets of names that did agree with the nature of the tools that DSIC instructs us to use?  Given how we’re combining the inscriptions on the pedestal with the inscriptions on the table, and noting that we combined the three symbols inside the triangle, this would suggest we should have the four angels inside the triangle as well.  This doesn’t completely surprise me; I mean, we see something similar going on with the Triangle of Art from the Lemegeton Goetia (see the earlier pictures in this post), after all, with the name Michael being split into three—and note how it’s fundamentally a table unto itself, consisting of a circle and triangle and divine names including “Tetragrammaton”.

Further, note how, in the Lemegeton Goetia’s Triangle of Art, there’s a circle inside the triangle itself.  This leads me to a design choice where, just as we can have the names of the four kings on an inside ring within the ring of planetary angelic names, bounded by a circle above and below it, we can have the names of the four archangels on a ring within the triangle, bounded by another pair of circles above and below it.  If I were to make a final, let’s-get-it-all-in Table of Practice design, based on everything above, then we’d end up with this:

This design of the Table of Practice, using two rings as is conventional at this point, with all the names spelled out in Latin script, has all the elements from both the pedestal and the stand on a single surface, and even though foregoing the pedestal isn’t true to the instructions in DSIC or to Fr. AC’s grimoire-strict methodology, this does have all the symbols necessary and in roughly-equivalent positions, just presented in two dimensions horizontally rather than three dimensions horizontally and vertically.  As a result, this might be the most true-to-the-spirit Table of Practice for DSIC-type work, should one forego the pedestal, and it also resolves the debate between having either the names of the four kings or those of the four angels by including both sets of names in an appropriate location.

And, for kicks, let’s do one more design: a final complete Table of Practice that has all the above plus the twelve zodiacal angels in another ring outside that of the planets and their angels, with the planetary and zodiacal angel names written in Celestial Hebrew :

It is weird, I admit, to have the four archangels “underneath” the four kings, but I’m not trying to represent a vertical relationship anymore once we get under the four kings.  Remember that everything in and around the triangle comes from the design of the pedestal, which is supposed to be stand above the table; if we do away with the pedestal (and it’s not true to DSIC to do so), then we should still make an effort to keep the same symbols from it onto the table to make a combined Table of Practice.  It’s common enough to do this by putting the three symbols of the hexagram with central Yod, pentagram, and cross into the corners of the triangle, but those could just as easily go outside the triangle, too; the circumscribed “Tetragrammaton” is unheard of in the way depicted above, either, but I’ve never seen anyone include both the four kings as well as the four angels.  While one could restructure the Table of Practice to put planetary angels on the outside, the four archangels inside them, and the four kings inside them, I think putting the archangels closest to the center of the Table of Practice makes more sense because those are supposed to be closest near the crystal.

One more conjecture at this point, now that I’ve plowed through enough Illustrator work for one day.  Now that I think about it…well, remember what I pointed out about the Triangle of Art from the Lemegeton above?  It’s fundamentally the same thing as the table: a triangle and a circle with some divine names written around it.  If you had a properly-constructed pedestal—or a consecrated monstrance—you could probably just plop that on the Triangle of Art and it would work as well.  After all, nobody’s complained about the Triangle of Art lacking kings or angels or planets and it’s been used for goetic conjurations for quite some time, and they’ve gotten great results with that tool, despite the lack of planetary stuff or the four kings.  My hunch is that you could use just a regular, simple, boring Triangle of Art and a properly-made stand for the crystal and it would be sufficient for DSIC ritual use, omitting everything above about the specific needs of the table from DSIC despite what DSIC says about it.  That’s just a conjecture, but given some of the discussions above, I think there’s a good logic to it that could well be experimented with for those who have a pedestal or monstrance.

When I set out to write about this topic, I had no intention of making this a full survey of the various Tables of Practice that are currently in use by a variety of magicians, nor did I anticipate going into detail on the various versions of the names one might use, but I’m glad I did.  Still, this is just one aspect of the DSIC equipment; there’s still the lamen, circle, and wand to talk about.  We’ll pick up on some of those next, though given how DSIC actually gives examples of those, there’ll be a lot less to discuss, and we’ll have more fun with the Fourth Book of Cornelius Agrippa, besides!

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Agrippa’s Lamen Design and the Divine Names « The Digital Ambler

  2. This is a great series of posts so far, as I have wondered some of the same things about the different versions of the Table of Practice (with or without the pedestal) that I have encountered. Just a couple of quick questions about DSIC, which I feel are most pertinent to the Table itself.

    First, which direction is meant to be faced during a DSIC ritual? Seven Spheres has a diagram with the Table and altar arranged to face north, and the practitioner is instructed to face north after tracing the circle beginning in the east. On the other hand, Gateways Through Stone and Circle has the Table apparently arranged to face east, but the Magician is instructed to face a different direction depending on the planetary Archangel being evoked; in the latter case, would the pedestal simply be rotated to allow the Magician to see the crystal, or would the entire temple setup be rotated?

    And is the difference between these two an instance of Frater RO’s adaptation and streamlining of the ritual, or of the occasional typographical/printing errors you mentioned finding in the book? (Full disclosure: I’m probably going to build one of the ‘hybrid’ Tables of Practice with both the planetary and elemental names, as soon as I can resolve the question of compass direction to my satisfaction.)

    Looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

  3. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series!

    I’ll touch on the topic of direction in a later post, after we talk about all the tools and their construction/consecration, since setting up the temple and ritual space is part of the process as well.

    Fr. RO does use north as his default spiritual direction, taking a cue from Egyptian practice (influenced especially by the Headless Rite of the PGM). Fr. AC in GTSC has East being the default direction, but the whole temple setup would be rotated (not just the pedestal) to face a different direction.

  4. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: “Thy Little Book” and Oaths of Spirits « The Digital Ambler

  5. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: On Constructions and Consecrations « The Digital Ambler

  6. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Making What We Need « The Digital Ambler

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