Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: “Thy Little Book” and Oaths of Spirits

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 today we can move on to other topics Last time, we talked about some more of the simpler parts of DSIC, namely the nature of the candles and the incense holder to be used for the rite. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!!

Last time, we left off with a sly, snide comment about how the specific form and placement of the incense holder seems to be pretty variable, with not a lot of people seeming to stick to the exact specifications of DSIC; I noted that it’s an underutilized and underemphasized part of DSIC. But that pales in comparison to today’s topic, for which there’s no design shown in the DSIC illustration (so I don’t need to mar your eyes with that picture again), but which is given a surprisingly detailed description in the DSIC text (as far as anything in it can be considered detailed). In the ritual, at the point of having put incense in the brazier (or otherwise lit incense using whatever kind and vessel you have) and just before the conjuration proper, DSIC instructs us to do this:

…take out thy little book, which must be made about seven inches long, of pure white virgin vellum or paper, likewise pen and ink must be ready to write down the name, character, and office, likewise the seal or image of whatever spirit may appear (for this I must tell you that it does not happen that the same spirit you call will always appear, for you must try the spirit to know whether he be a pure or impure being, and this thou shalt easily know by a firm and undoubted faith in God.)

So we have “thy little book”, which is given the following specifications:

  • A book roughly 7″ tall (though no specification is given as to width or number of pages)
  • Pure white virgin (i.e. new and unused) vellum or paper

Additionally, we’re to have pen and ink ready to go at our disposal. The purpose of this book is so that we can write down the name of the spirit we’re conjuring, their character or characters (seal, sigil, etc.), their office, and “the seal or image of whatever spirit may appear”.

What DSIC is describing here is none other than a Book of Spirits, or in Latin, Liber Spirituum. This is described at length in Agrippa’s Fourth Book (book IV, chapter 9) to the point where I hesitate even quoting sections from it here, because Agrippa goes on at length about it. Though I strongly encourage you to just….read Agrippa, here’s a very brief summary of the points of what Agrippa is saying:

  • A Liber Spirituum is to be made, consecrated, and used for the conjuration of specifically evil spirits.
  • Made of pure, clean, new, unused paper (aka “virgin paper”)
  • Any pair of pages, left and right, are to be used for a single spirit
    • On the left-hand page is drawn the image (depiction, visualization, etc.) of the spirit
    • On the right-hand page is drawn the oath of the spirit that uses its name, “dignity” (office), and “place” (origin, role, function, etc.), underneath which is the seal of the spirit
    • Additional information, such as appropriate places, times, hours, planets, and the like for the spirit, should also be noted as discovered or agreed upon
  • Adorned with “Registers and Seals”, e.g. ribbon bookmarks containing glyphs representing the spirit
    • This helps the magician open up the book to any specific spirit as needed at a moment’s notice
    • This also helps prevent the book being opened up to any unwanted or undesired spirit that might harm the magician or those around them
  • This book should be considered and kept as a sacred object, lest it “lose its virtue with pollution and profanation”

If this makes it sound like something out of a movie, then you’re getting the right idea. The Liber Spirituum is essentially a magician’s own personal compendium of spirits, something far more sorcerous than a mere Book of Shadows. The book itself is essentially a rolodex of and cellphone for calling the spirits a magician has conjured, containing the contracts and oaths that he has made the spirits swear by so that they might remain loyal and truthful to the magician, with all necessary information so make future conjurations easier and swifter. Agrippa gives two ways to consecrate such a book:

  1. Whenever a new spirit is conjured for the first time to the magic circle of the magician, the spirit is to be bound into a triangle outside the circle. (This is pretty basic Solomonic stuff a la the Lemegeton Goetia.) With that spirit in the triangle, the magician calls upon the spirit to give their oath and bond to the magician, which is then recorded and consecrated in the book.
  2. Make the book the same way as specified above, but at the end of the book, write the different invocations, oaths, conjurations, bindings, and other prayers as one might use in rituals (like those in the Lemegeton Goetia, Heptameron, or other Solomonic texts) “wherewith every spirit may be bound”. This book then should then be “bound between two Tables or Lamens”, meaning that special lamens (not like the angelic lamens we discussed before, but more like the classic Solomonic lamens like the Pentagram of Solomon or Hexagram of Solomon) should be placed, engraved, or attached to the front cover and back cover, and on the inside covers as well (same or different). The spirits to be contained in the book are to be conjured with the oaths and prayers written in it to the circle “within the space of three days”. This book is then wrapped up in clean linen and buried securely (!) in the middle of the circle and covered, with the circle then being destroyed. The spirits called upon are then given license to depart. Three days later, the magician returns to that spot, makes a new circle, dig up the book, and without opening it, calling upon all those same spirits earlier called upon.

Agrippa says that the first way is preferred, since even though the second method is easier and of “much efficacy to produce every effect, except that in opening this book the spirit do not always come visible”. This suggests that the first method, though probably more laborious to conjure each and every spirit one by one separately and get their separate oaths written and sealed up in the book, gives more power and potency to the book itself.

As to how to use the book? Agrippa further continues that whenever the magician wants to work with one of the spirits with which they have an oath in their Liber Spirituum, all they need to do is open the book directly to that spirit’s entry (using the bookmark “Register”, not opening up to any other page), invoke the spirit by their oath they gave along with their name and seal, and simply go from there, giving license to depart to the spirit when you’re done with them. This effectively gives the magician a way to work more expeditiously and easier with the spirit, as once they have such an oath and bond with them, “without a Circle these Spirits may be called to appear, according to the way which is above delivered about the consecration of a book” (book IV, chapter 14).

So, what’s the purpose of the Liber Spirituum? When we work with spirits, we ask, oblige, compel, or force them to give us an oath and bond of theirs, complete with their name, office, role, appropriate times/materials/etc., and depiction, upon which we can rely to ensure their continued support and assistance at a later time. In doing so, we essentially enter into a formal relationship with the spirit, where the full formality of a complete conjuration ritual with circle and candle and incense and the like aren’t strictly necessary (unless deemed so depending on the nature of the oath to be made by the spirit and the nature of the danger of said spirit). Agrippa makes it clear that we only open the book when we need to, and then only to the select pages related to the spirit; the mere act of opening the book is a conjuration unto itself, which is why we need to use “Registers” or bookmarks to make sure we only open up to the right pages that we need and no other.

Now, of course, DSIC doesn’t really get into any of this except in the briefest of manners. It does say a bit more in the ritual text about how such a book should be used once a spirit is conjured and confirmed to be present:

Here let him swear, then write down his seal or character in thy book, and against it, his office and times to be called, through God’s name; also write down any thing he may teach thee, or any responses he may make to thy questions or interrogations, concerning life or death, arts or sciences, or any other thing…

However, DSIC leaves out all the spiritual powers of such a book that Agrippa takes pains to describe for us. As a result, many modern users of DSIC simply interpret this as little more than a notebook-like catalog of spirits, who they are and what their information is and the like, turning it into more of a record of works than a Liber Spirituum with real power and potency like what Agrippa describes. To be sure, Fr. RO doesn’t take this sort of approach at all in RWC, nor does he say anything about books or pens or ink or anything like this, though he does recommend taking notes after or during conjurations for our own recordkeeping (whether it’s in RWC, SS, his blog, or the old mailing list for RWC, I forget). For my part, I have two notebooks I use: one, which is really more of a binder than anything, holds laminated pockets for each separate lamen I use for conjuring different spirits, and the other is a spiral-bound notebook that I use to record the conversations I have with the angels, headed at the top of each entry with the name and seal of the spirit I’m conjuring, the date of the conjuration, any other information about the conjuration (Moon phase, planetary transits, weather, illness, etc.), and the details of the conjuration itself, what we discussed, and the like. I feel like this is a fairly common approach for those who write anything about their conjurations at all, just to keep a record of what was done, when, and with whom.

And then, of course, there’s Fr. AC, who dedicates a vast chunk of his GTSC chapter on the tools of DSIC to the Liber Spirituum. He goes into fantastic depth about how his process of making and consecrating one, its role in both the real practice and popular conceptions of magic, though he largely keeps to Agrippa’s design and process, even going into detail about the specific materials he used and his own experiences of using (or misusing) such a book. Going through Fr. AC’s blogs, I was able to dig up two posts in which he showed off two versions of his own Liber Spirituum, with the newer one bound in brown leather and the older one in black cloth:

Honestly, I don’t know what or even where to begin quoting Fr. AC on this, because he devotes a full eleven pages to GTSC to this topic. It’s a fascinating read, and he really goes to extreme lengths to make it abundantly clear how to make, consecrate, and use such a tool. Towards the end of GTSC, as well, he gives an example page from his own Liber Spirituum with his own selection for the oath used for the conjuration of Cassiel, the angel of Saturn, and a full account of a conjuration with the angel.

However…there’s something that really bothers me about the use of such a book with DSIC (besides the fact that it seems like a lot of work compared to similar practices, like the Heptameron, that don’t call for such a thing at all). While DSIC is literally titled “Drawing Spirits Into Crystals”, the text appears to be focused most on the conjuration of angels. Yes, it can be used for other spirits (as implied in some of the options given in the ritual text), but by and large, the ritual is focused on angelic conjuration, and indeed, this is largely the main purpose for DSIC in modern usage. If we consider this in light of what Agrippa is describing, well…Agrippa describes two kinds of conjurations, of good spirits and of evil spirits, and angels fall among the good spirits. And, in the chapters of the Fourth Book that involve such conjurations of good spirits, there is no mention at all of books, oaths, bonds, or the like. It’s only in the context of the conjuration of evil spirits are such things used or mentioned, and even Donald Tyson in his analysis of the Fourth Book agrees: “The Book of Spirits is a book used by goetic magicians to compel the obedience of evil spirits.” (He also gives a much more lucid and clear explanation of the construction, consecration, and use of the Liber Spirituum, which I also encourage those who are interested to read.)

While I’m not saying that a Liber Spirituum can’t be used for “good spirits” like angels, I do question whether it’s necessary or even encouraged to do so. By the nature of them being “good spirits”, Agrippa suggests that it’s not necessary (perhaps not even possible) to get them to swear oaths of this manner, probably because of their angelic and divine nature that transcends anything we mortal humans might make them do. It’s only when we deal with “evil spirits”, such as demons, devils, or any terrestrial, chthonic, or otherwise sublunary non-angelic spirit that we might want to use a Liber Spirituum in the sense of how Agrippa describes one. I question Fr. AC’s logic here when he uses a Liber Spirituum for angelic spirits; again, not that he can’t, but perhaps that he shouldn’t. Besides, the oath he gives for the angel Cassiel of Saturn is no more than the Heptameron conjuration for this angel, right down to the use of the final “&c.”, which I find an odd choice for such an oath.

However, backing Fr. AC up, the Magus includes an illustration of “a specimen of the Book of Spirits to be made of virgin Vellum”, which includes a depiction of the angel Cassiel complete with the Latin Heptameron conjuration, again right down to the use of the final “&c.”. So, while I find Fr. AC’s use of this approach to be odd, he is drawing precisely from the source materials itself; while I may not like it, I cannot say that he’s doing things wrong. Yet, at the same time, notice those two weird pentagram-like shapes on the illustration of Cassiel. These are the “penetrate” (“penetrans”) and “broken” (“fracta”) characters from Agripppa (book IV, chapter 4), which details the various characters of specifically evil spirits.

That the angel of Saturn might be considered an “evil spirit” is…honestly startling. Likewise, the whole illustration is plucked almost verbatim from the following chapter in Agrippa’s Fourth Book, the specific chapter on descriptions of spirits which technically all pertain to evil spirits. Putting aside the possibility that an angel of a malefic planet might be considered “evil” by nature of the planet, it seems like Barrett draws no distinction between angels (which I would presume to be “good spirits” according to Agrippa) and “evil spirits”, which kinda makes sense given how DSIC itself seems to conflate many of the aspects of Agrippa’s descriptions of conjurations of “good spirits” and those of “evil spirits”. So it could well be that DSIC is well and truly recommending us to use a Liber Spirituum for the angels in this light; this would make a lot of the confusion between Agrippa’s different methods, as well as our idea that the seven angels on the table should be put in the same ring as the four Kings, make much more sense, if it weren’t for the fact that making planetary angels (or any type of angels) into “evil spirits” still makes little to no sense to my mind.

Now, at least if you’re using DSIC for non-angelic conjuration, then yes, by all means, having a properly consecrated Liber Spirituum can be a great boon! Especially so, when you consider the plus of not necessarily having to go through a full conjuration process for spirits once you’ve already obtained their oath written in such a book. But even then, is it necessary? I would still say no. For one, DSIC doesn’t suggest any miraculous or spiritual powers to “thy little book” or that it can be used in such a way, but more importantly than that, there’s the penultimate prayer of the DSIC process, the license to depart. Note the bold section:

Thou great and mighty spirit, inasmuch as thou camest in peace and in the name of the ever blessed and righteous Trinity, so in this name thou mayest depart, and return to us when we call thee in his name to whom every knee doth bow down. Fare thee well, Michael; peace be between us, through our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Part of that license to depart is essentially a condition: “in the name of God go, and in the name of God, return to me when I call upon you again when I call on you in the name of God”. We’re essentially getting an underhanded agreement out of the spirit we’re telling to go, sending them on the way out and getting their promise in the process that we can just call on them “when we call [them] in [God’s] name” and, boom, they’ll appear. This is actually really sly when you think about it: we’re telling them to go and, if they take that option, that in doing so they’ve already signed the EULA to come back when we call on them. By virtue of the spirit leaving, they’ve already agreed to it, even if they’re already heading out the door. The dismissal and ensuing absence of the spirit has, effectively, become their signature.

Of course, what happens if the spirit doesn’t leave? Well, that’s where DSIC has nothing written about what to do, and we’d resort to the usual Solomonic literature like the Lemegeton Goetia or the Heptameron or the Bond of Solomon for exorcisms, threats, and the like, but so long as we limit ourselves to good spirits, we really shouldn’t have a problem. We can touch on this topic later when we get into the ritual process of DSIC (which…yikes, it’s been so long since having started this post series and we’re still not there?!), but for now, suffice it to say that I don’t think we need a physical object for the spirit to swear by when they can simply swear by them leaving the conjuration ritual area.

Now, there is the simple fact that DSIC is saying that we need to use a book for writing information about the spirit in. Sure! That makes total sense to me; nobody is going to argue with the benefit of taking down notes from our conjuration rituals, and admittedly, DSIC makes this book sound an awful lot like the Liber Spirituum of Agrippa, and by extension according to Fr. AC, similar books of spirits in other goetic grimoires and Solomonic literature. But it doesn’t necessitate such a book being used in that way; after all, it says “let him swear, then write down his seal…”, not “let him swear upon his seal”. After all, in the ritual text of DSIC, the “swearing” going on here is nothing more than the authentication of the spirit, that they really are who they say they are. That’s it, that’s all. DSIC, instead, says that the book should be used to “write down any thing he may teach thee, or any responses he may make to thy questions or interrogations, concerning life or death, arts or sciences, or any other thing”. It really does seem like the book for DSIC is less a Liber Spirituum and more just a Commentarium Spirituum, a notebook of records of conjurations.

In my view? You can use a proper Liber Spirituum if you want to for angelic or other “good spirits”, but I don’t consider it necessary, and depending on your cosmological and theological perspective, doing so may not even be recommended. But, if you’re going for a more goetic approach for using DSIC, then you may want to consider a proper Liber Spirituum to give you the extra edge, even though it, again, may not necessary depending on your specific goetic background and methodology.

But…well, now that I think about it, the same logic above about using goetic tools for non-goetic conjuration of angels in the sense of mixing up “evil spirit” methods with “good spirit” targets can be applied to the wand and the ring just as much to the Liber Spirituum. Remember that Agrippa doesn’t mention a wand at all in his Fourth Book, but instead the use of a sword with which one may threaten, impel, and force spirits to swear oaths or behave, which fits in well with Lemegeton- and Key of Solomon-type goetia; ditto for the ring, which is to preserve the safety and health of the magician by further reinforcing their divinely-granted authority and protection. Yet, if DSIC is focused on angelic works…then why? Just as Agrippa doesn’t reference the use of a Liber Spirituum when working with good spirits, he likewise doesn’t reference wands (or swords) or rings with them, either, simply just prayer (book IV, chapter 10), basically in a way like what the Arbatel suggests (which itself was presented in the same volume as the Fourth Book):

But in the end of these days, on the last day, you shall fast more strictly: and fasting on the day following, at the rising of the sun, you may enter into the holy place, using the ceremonies before spoken of, first by sprinkling your self, then with making a perfume, you shall sign your self with holy oil in the forehead, and anoint your eyes; using prayer in all these Consecrations. Then you shall open the holy Lamen, and pray before the altar upon your knees, as said above: and then an invocation being made to the Angels, they will appear unto you, which you desire; which you shall entertain with a benign and chaste communication, and license them to depart.

In that sense, if we’re just sticking to the seven planetary angels (or angels generally, or any entity in the “good spirit” class), then just as there’s (as I argue) no need for a Liber Spirituum, there’d be equally no need for a wand or ring, because these are more goetic tools that aren’t as suited for working with “good spirits” as they would be for “evil spirits”. There’s nothing saying you can’t use them, of course, but I feel like the argument isn’t strong enough for saying that you have to use them. If you’re going for demonic, “goetic”, or other entities in the “evil spirits” category, then yes, you should use the wand (or sword, or both) as well as the ring, but I think bringing them into angelic conjurations doesn’t actually do much.

I mean, consider: what are you, pitiful and God-reliant mortal that you are, going to do when Michael comes down in conjuration to some demand of yours and says “lol nah, fuk u“? Are you going to imperil Michael himself with your wand to step back and away from the crystal? Are you going to try binding the angel into a badly-made triangle and make him swear an oath to you that would supersede the very will of God that he embodies and exists to fulfill? Are you going to use your dinky ring of Solomon, engraved with Michael’s very own name, to protect yourself from the very same entity himself? Would that ring even do anything against him to hold him back? I would say that such an approach would be among the most laughable of circumstances if it weren’t for the horrifiyingly hubristic danger of trying to antagonize such powerfully divine and divinely powerful entities when they refuse to bow to your whims, bowing instead only to the whims of God. The approach would be different for working with the Lemegeton Goetia crowd, to be sure, but then, those wouldn’t be classed into Agrippa’s “good spirits”.

The only thing I can think of that might argue for the use of the wand and the ring in DSIC isn’t to work with and defend yourself from the spirit you’re conjuring directly, but from other spirits. After all, when engaging with the spiritual world…

…you may end up with a lot more clawing at your door than just the thing you called. That is, after all, why we trace the circle with the wand, to keep ourselves safe from malign spiritual influences, especially if we get a deceiving spirit instead of the one we called, and for the same reason why we wear the ring. But, heck, even the use of the magic circle itself isn’t called for by Agrippa for the conjuration of “good spirits” in a way that would line up with DSIC. It’s like DSIC keeps mashing up two main sources, one of which is clearly Agrippa’s Fourth Book non-Solomonic methods and the other something clearly far more explicitly and detailedly Solomonic, but DSIC doesn’t appear to be doing a great job at sorting this all out and making the mashup clean. It works as it is, to be sure, but perhaps it could work better if it were rethought and tweaked a bit.

Okay, enough on this topic. Just one more post about the design and purpose of the tools we use in DSIC, the magic circle, which will come up next, and then we can finally get into implementing some of this stuff above and beyond just talking about their roles, functions, and forms.

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Magic Circle and its Heptameron Origins « The Digital Ambler

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

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

  4. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Setting Up the Temple « The Digital Ambler

  5. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Recap, Summary, Variations « The Digital Ambler

  6. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: A Postscript from Francis Barrett Himself « The Digital Ambler

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