Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Magic Circle and its Heptameron Origins

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 the Liber Spirituum, the Book of Spirits, and how it might or might not be recommended for DSIC works if all you need is just a notebook to take notes.  If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

This time, let’s talk about the last big design element from the DSIC text: the magic circle itself.  Like the wand, the DSIC text doesn’t actually prescribe a design or list of elements to go onto the magic circle, it just says that we need to use one.  However, also like the wand, the illustration gives us the design information we need, so let’s pull up the DSIC illustration once more from Barret’s book:

It’s the middle circle in the whole thing, captioned as “the magic Circle of a simple construction in which the operator must stand or sit when he uses the Chrystal”.  Let’s analyze the design; what do we see?  We see another double circle design, with the space between the outer and inner circles containing the following symbols:

  • Four hexagrams, each aligned to one of the four directions of the circle (top, bottom, left, right)
  • The divine name “Tetragrammaton” (cursive typeface) in the upper left quadrant, written from the inside of the circles
  • The divine name “Elohim” (print typeface) in the lower left quadrant, written from the outside of the circles
  • The divine name “ADONAI” (print typeface, all caps) in the lower right quadrant, written from the outside of the circles
  • The symbol for the Sun and the seal of the angel Michael of the Sun in the upper right quadrant, written form the inside of the circles

I can’t explain the use of different typefaces and styles used for the three divine names on the circle; I don’t want to just outright say that they’re meaningless and just up to the whimsy of the illustrator, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case.  Additionally, the shift in direction from the upper two quadrants (names/seals written from the perspective of inside the circle) and the lower two quadrants (written from the perspective of outside the circle) almost certainly seems like an error to me; in almost every kind of magic circle I can think of in which the magician stands within, any contents in the design of the circle are written from the perspective of the magician inside not the spirits outside.  Fr. AC likewise seems to agree with me, and though he embellishes his circle from the DSIC illustration basis, he keeps the basic divine names written in the same typeface (he likes using blackletter) and all written from the perspective of the magician inside the circle.

For the three quadrants with divine names, he has three elements each:

  • The divine name written in Latin script
  • The same name written in Hebrew square script
  • The same name written in paleo-Sinitic/Phoenician script

In GTSC, he admits that “this was an inspirational modification on my part, but one that seemed appropriate to fill the space of the circle”.  I’ll also note that he uses YHVH in Hebrew/Phoenician scripts for transliterating Tetragrammaton, because, well, the Tetragrammaton is literally just that.  As usual, props to Fr. AC for aesthetics and balance (though my eyes rebel and revolt at the sight of blackletter).

However, there are others, like Fr. FC and Jason Augustus Newcomb, who use the DSIC illustration orientation, with Newcomb literally just basically using a gigantic printout of the circle, typefaces and all.  Fr. FC, on the other hand, redrew it, but also kept the typefaces relatively the same.

I don’t care for this approach, personally, but that’s just me.  I’d rather have all the names written in the same typeface and facing the same direction.

Then there’s the case of that last quadrant.  The DSIC illustration, since the text is focused on using Michael of the Sun as the exemplar, fills this last quadrant with two things: the glyph of the Sun closer to the top, and the seal of the angel Michael clockwise from it towards the right.  This suggests that this quadrant needs two things: the glyph of the planet and the seal of the angel.  That’s it.  Of course, if you wanted to add to it, you could; Fr. AC does just that, and adds the name of the angel (in both Latin script and Hebrew square script) and the signs of the zodiac that planet rules to this segment.  As with his additions to the other three quadrants, he says that he does “not think this is necessary for the strength of the circle, but it felt appropriate for the design”.

Now, how does one go about customizing the circle for different planets?  Some people draw out the circle in chalk or erasable/washable paint or some other nonpermanent material every time for each individual conjuration, while others like to have something more fixed, like a circle painted on canvas or carpet.  So how might one customize the quadrant for the angel-specific stuff?  The general approach is to make the base of the circle blank on that part, and make “covers” or “layovers” made of the same material to temporarily fix onto the circle to cover the blankness with the necessary information, or something transparent laid on top likewise to fill it in.  Other people use large firm boards that fit together, like flooring tiles, using one board for each quadrant, and just swap out the board for the angelic quadrant for each angel.

While I get the practical reasons for making disassembling/overwritten circles, and while the ingenuity delights me…it kinda weirds me out, to be honest.  We use circles because they provide an unbroken boundary, while most times, using objects such as disassembling boards or pinned-on quadrant segments causes a natural break to form.  I would rather just draw the circle out in chalk or have multiple circles painted on canvas carpets, but I also admit that neither are the most feasible of approaches for many people.  Do what you can; I would recommend most having a canvas with a complete circle painted on and a blank quadrant here, with thin pieces of fabric that can be pinned on securely and flatly that fill only the space between the inner and outer circle without breaking them or overwriting them.

Why would we use this sort of method of making custom circles for different conjurations?  The way I see it, the custom circle helps link us more to the spirit we’re trying to conjure, in a way that reinforces the connection that we make also by wearing the lamen of that same spirit.  Plus, in case things (for some reason) go awry, building such a circle that’s already aligned with the spirit can help deflect, ameliorate, or appease any harm they might cause or bring, in a sort of roundabout “hair of the dog that bit you” kind of way.

How big should the magic circle be?  Neither Agrippa nor DSIC says.  For yourself, make it big enough to do what you need to do; I’d recommend making the diameter as tall as you are plus about half a foot on either side.  So, for me, since I’m about 6’3″ tall, I’d ideally make my circle about 7′ wide.  That way, I have enough space to walk, sit, stand, and lie down in with ease without having to cross the boundary at all, with enough space to have another person in the circle with me as well as to have a small table for supplies and the like at hand.  Of course, for space constraints, you could just have it be a smaller circle that’s literally just a few feet wide, big enough for you to stand or sit in for the duration of that conjuration.  Not a big deal, I suppose; if you want to give numerological meaning to the size of the circle, you’re free to do so, but so long as it’s big enough for you to handle the task at hand, whatever size will be fine.

How should the circle be oriented?  While one might associate different names of God with the different directions (as I did in my own Circle of Art tarp project a few years back), there’s nothing in DSIC that suggests how to actually orient it, though a natural suggestion of aligning the four hexagrams with the four directions makes sense.  However, Fr. AC in GTSC says that, rather than aligning the hexagrams to the four directions, one aligns the circle such that the quadrant with the planet and seal of the angel lies directly between the magician (in the center of the circle) and the crystal.  I like this idea quite a lot, actually; with that, there’s this three-fold presence of the spirit in the ritual: once in the crystal, once upon the circle between crystal and magician, and once upon the magician’s own breast in the form of the lamen, all in a single straight line.  Plus, with the planet and seal of the angel positioned closest to the crystal, it would help facilitate their presence anyway in the crystal itself.  (This is, of course, assuming that the crystal and the rest of that set of equipment is placed outside the magic circle itself, following Fr. AC’s method.  This is the expected reading, but Fr. RO and Fr. Acher use a different setup, which we’ll discuss in a later post.)

So is that it?  This seems to be it.  Magic circle, done and figured out, right?

Of course not.

At this point, we should remind ourselves: fundamentally, what is the magic circle for?  Circles are for protection, especially from the harmful influences of demons and other malignant spirits; as the preface to the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano appended to Agrippa’s Fourth Book says,  “the greatest power is attributed to the Circles; For they are certain fortresses to defend the operators safe from the evil Spirits”.  But, as we touched on at the end of the last post, DSIC seems to be far more geared towards the conjuration of angels (even though it doesn’t necessitate that it only be used as such), which would suggest that we use more of Agrippa’s “good spirit” methods in his Fourth Book, which appear more theurgical and akin to the Arbatel.  Yet, parts of DSIC (the wand and the ring, the Liber Spirituum, and now the circle) are things that fall more into Agrippa’s “evil spirit” methods, which is far more Solomonic in nature.  If we’re working with “good spirits” like angels, then such a tool of impelling and such measures of protection would be unnecessary (and probably outright useless if push came to shove) when working with such spirits.  If we’re working with good spirits, then by using these things, we’re insulating ourselves from ambient malignant spirits or preparing ourselves just in case for a deceptive evil spirit to steal the place of the good spirit we’re calling.

Yet, DSIC is comparatively unprepared when it comes to “what to do if a spirit is stubborn”, so I don’t think the “just in case” reason above makes a lot of sense, nor does “general protection from ambient malignant spirits”; after all, it’s not like we’re necessarily more vulnerable in a conjuration, so why not always wear a ring of Solomon for the protection it would provide?  Moreover, why would Agrippa, who is otherwise pretty descriptive with his methods in the Fourth Book, say nothing about spiritual protection when working with good spirits?  If the spirits are as good as they say they are, especially if you’re working with angels, and even more the planetary or archangels themselves, then there’s nothing to fear since the angels themselves will defend and protect you, kicking out any deception or deceiving spirit in the process, no circle or ring needed.

Again, this ties into the weirdness of DSIC plainly being a mashup of both Solomonic and non-Solomonic techniques of working with spirits, sometimes conflating the methods described by Agrippa as some being for “good spirits” and others being for “evil spirits”; whatever texts the author of DSIC was referencing, Agrippa was only one of them.  This can also be evidenced in the weird phrasing of that caption, “of a simple construction”, which bothers me.  Unlike the specifications of the pedestal, table, wand, lamen, and the like, this part of DSIC would appear to give us some leeway in how the circle is designed.  Since most of the DSIC toolset and structure is heavily indebted to Agrippa’s Fourth Book, we can turn to there to see what Agrippa says about the circle design, just like we did for the lamen…except there’s not so much written about it as there is about the lamen.  Book IV, chapter 10 has “another Rite more easie to perform for calling forth spirits” that isn’t really connected to the parts that would use lamens or the other DSIC technique that the Fourth Book would anticipate, but this segment has a bit about it:

Then a place being prepared pure and clean, and covered everywhere with white linen, on the Lord’s Day in the new of the Moon let him enter into that place, clothed with clean white garments; and let him exorcise the place, and bless it, and make a Circle therein with a sanctified coal; and let there be written in the uttermost part of the Circle the names of the Angels, and in the inner part thereof let there be written the mighty names of God: and let him place within the Circle, at the four angles of the world, the Censers for the perfumes…

Later on, in chapter 12 on “calling forth evil spirits to a magic circle”, Agrippa gives a different design to be used for evil spirits as opposed to good spirits:

These things being considered, let there be a Circle framed in the place elected, as much for the defense of the Invocant as for the confirmation of the Spirit. And in the Circle it self there are to be written the divine general names, and those things which do yield defense unto us; and with them, those divine names which do rule this Planet, and the Offices of the Spirit himself; there shall also be written therein, the names of the good Spirits which bear rule, and are able to bind and constrain that Spirit which we intend to call. And if we will any more fortify and strengthen our Circle, we may add Characters and Pentacles agreeing to the work; then also if we will, we may either within or without the Circle, frame an angular figure, with the inscription of such convenient numbers, as are congruent amongst themselves to our work; which are also to be known, according to manner of numbers and figures: of which in the second book of Occult Philosophy it is sufficiently spoken.

And, later in chapter 13, a modification that some magicians make:

And therefore some use to make a Gate in the Circle, whereby they may go in and out, which they open and shut as they please, and fortify it with holy Names and Pentacles.

It doesn’t seem like that last bit about the gate influenced the DSIC circle any, so we can probably ignore it.  But the first two sections quoted seem more important, and if we were to combine the two into a single circle format, then we can gather up the following design instructions from them:

  • The circle should be written in consecrated/blessed/sanctified coal on the ground in a clean and pure place on a Sunday on a new Moon (or as soon afterwards as possible)
  • Four censers for incense should be placed at the four angles of the circle (north, south, east, west) (recall our earlier talk about the brazier and incense vessel)
  • The names of the angels (to be conjured? angels generally?) are to be written in the “uttermost” part of the circle
  • Divine names should be written in the “inner part” of the circle, including and especially those that rule or are connected to the planet associated with the spirit as well as the general names (as said before from the first part of our lamen discussion)
  • The names and characters of the spirit to be conjured
  • The names of the “good spirits” that rule over and can bind/thwart the spirit being conjured (especially if an “evil spirit”)
  • Any characters, pentacles, names, etc. as desired to further empower the circle
  • “Angular figures” according to the number of the planet of the spirit (consider how there are four hexagrams in the DSIC circle, hexagrams having six points, six being the qabbalistic number of the Sun)

In other words, it seems like Agrippa is giving us some huge leeway, indeed, when it comes to how we want to draw the circle, and though he gives so many options as to be vague, the DSIC illustration…doesn’t have a lot of this, nor does it clearly match up with what Agrippa describes.  So I’m not entirely sure that DSIC is actually drawing strictly from Agrippa here.

If the DSIC caption is describing its circle as being “of a simple construction”, then the logical question to ask is “simple compared to what?”  And that’s where I think it’s helpful to take a step back and consider what else the author and illustrator of DSIC might be drawing on.  We know that Agrippa’s Fourth Book is huge, of course, but when the Fourth Book was published, it wasn’t published alone.  One of the other texts in the volume that contains the Fourth Book is the well-praised and famous Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, which is a classic of the Solomonic tradition and has earlier origins, too, including an entry in the Munich Manual that I’ve translated from Latin and is extant in a few other texts that predate the Fourth Book, though not by a lot.  One of the most fascinating parts of this work is the complex magic circle design that the Heptameron says to make:

  • Four circles, with three rings of names
  • The innermost ring has the four divine names Tetragrammaton, Adonay, Eloy, and Agla
  • The outermost ring has the name of the “Angel of the Air” and their ministers that correspond to the planet of the spirit being conjured
  • The middle ring has the name and seal of the angel of the planet being conjured, the angels of that day, the sacred name of the season in which the conjuration takes place; the sacred names of the angels, head of the sign, Earth, Sun, and Moon that all pertain to that season; and the sacred name of the hour in which the conjuration is to take place
  • The inside of the innermost ring has the phrase “Alpha et Ω” (Alpha and Ōmega) written, with “Alpha” at the top and “et Ω” at the bottom
  • The two innermost circles have two lines running through them at a right angle aligned to the four directions

The classic example given in the text is the following circle, to be performed on a Sunday at the first hour of the day in springtime:

Granted that we can see some similarities between this method and what Agrippa describes, this is certainly not a simple circle, especially as the outermost and middle rings will completely change based on the season, hour, and day in which the conjuration is to be performed.  However, the Heptameron method seems to fix the angels/planetary spirits to be conjured to the day itself, so it would seem like it would discourage performing a conjuration of the spirits of the Moon in an hour of the Moon on a Sunday, even though the Heptameron also gives a list of hours of the days of the week and their presiding planets/angels, so I’m not sure on that specific point; if the Heptameron method does allow such a thing, then the angelic name, seal, and likely the other angels of the planet would also change.

All the same, take a close look at the innermost ring: three of the four names (Tetragrammaton, Adonay, and Eloy) are basically the same as those used in the DSIC circle (Tetragrammaton, Adonai, Elohim), with Agla (which is Hebrew acronym for the Hebrew phrase “atah gibor le-olam Adonai”, or “You, my Lord, are mighty forever”, itself treated as a divine name in many grimoires) being dropped in favor of having the planetary glyph and angelic seal.  It seems to me like the DSIC circle is a vastly simplified form of the Heptameron circle, keeping only most of the innermost circle, replacing one of the divine names with the planetary/angelic stuff, and replacing the crosses with hexagrams.  Whether the hexagrams are supposed to be specifically solar symbols (having six points, per Agrippa’s instructions) or are just meant as general holy symbols can’t be inferred from the DSIC text; everyone seems to take them as being general, and I’m not opposed to that approach, but if you wanted to take an Agrippan approach, you might use heptagrams for Venus circles, octograms for Mercury circles, triangles for Saturn circles, and the like.  Besides, it’s clear that the DSIC author/illustrator has a thing for hexagrams given their presence elsewhere on its ritual tools, so I think that hexagrams should be used in general here.

However, consider that the four outside pentagrams are aligned to the cross-quarters.  If we consider Fr. AC’s suggestion above that the quadrant of the circle containing the planet and seal of the spirit to be conjured is aligned to the crystal, then that would place the hexagrams in the DSIC circle at the cross-quarters, which would match with the Heptameron stars here.  And, if we consider that the innermost “Alpha et ω” was removed from the circle, it might be possible that the DSIC author removed this and put it on the back of the wand (“Ego Alpha et Omega”), so that the same element was present, just on a different item.  It’s not that much of a stretch.

Personally, I’m very confident in saying that the DSIC circle is a simplified form of the Heptameron circle, because there’s so much in DSIC that takes directly from the Heptameron in terms of the specific prayers and exorcisms that are used in both, especially when you hone in on the phrasing of certain things.   Plus there’s the use of the same angels and, at least as far as Michael of the Sun is concerned, the same seals for those angels as in the Heptameron.  And we know it’s specifically the Heptameron and not other extant closely-related texts like the Munich Manual because we see an association of Michael with the Sun, which is present in the Heptameron as published with Agrippa’s Fourth Book, yet Agrippa himself in the various Scales chapters of his book II gives Michael to Mercury and Raphael to the Sun—as did nearly every earlier and contemporaneous text up until the publication of this version of the Heptameron, it’d seem.  And that’s a really convincing point for me, too, although Trithemius did give Michael to the Sun and Raphael to Mercury in his own writings, such as in the Steganographia and De Septem Secundeis.  Odd, then, that Agrippa, himself a student of Trithemius, would revert to the earlier form, perhaps based on older and more common sources than what his teacher had provided him; perhaps there were too many differences in angels generally, as Trithemius also gave Saturn to the angel Orifiel and Jupiter to Zachariel, which don’t match up with the Heptameron angels or Agrippa’s angels.

To be fair, many of the things to be said according to the Heptameron closely follow a variety of other Solomonic texts, many of which tend to rely ultimately on the famous Liber Juratus Honorii, or the Sworn Book of Honorius (LJH).  This places DSIC in that same line of literature lineage, albeit in a much reduced and simplified form.  For a comparable text, probably one of the closest contemporaneous texts to DSIC-qua-Solomonica could well be the Secret Grimoire of Turiel (SGT), which itself is given in Frederick Hockley’s version of A Complete Book of Magic Science (CBMS).  Though it’s not exactly clear when this text arose, it’s clear that it’s not that old, and Fr. AC references this text in bringing in a few extra consecrations and blessings, such as for the lamen, which makes a good fit in general due to how closely related in time and content this is with DSIC.  Plus, there’s also a number of other strong parallels between SGT/CBMS and DSIC in some of the tools as far as the candlesticks and wand are concerned.  SGT/CMBS is a lot more in-depth and Christian in tone and approach than DSIC (ironic, considering how DSIC is attributed to a Christian abbot), and it’s probably from a different lineage of Solomonica than the DSIC and Heptameron are (probably more from a Key of Solomon line and which incorporates the Arbatel?), but it’s a good secondary text to reference for fleshing out and understanding DSIC more.

What makes DSIC fascinating to me is that it appears to blend LHJ-descended Heptameron-style (maybe with echoes of the Grimoire of Pope Honorius, itself from a more Grimorium Verum line?) Solomonica with Agrippa’s Three Books and Fourth Book, that latter which, although Agrippa was surely aware of Solomonic literature and practices when he wrote them (whether or not he was the actual author of the Fourth Book), isn’t directly tied into it.  And it presents such a simplified form of angelic conjuration compared to earlier texts that one might even call it dumbed-down; I’m reminded of some of the modern debates about whether to take the Fr. RO approach versus the Fr. AC approach, with some railing against Fr. RO’s RWC-/SS-style DSIC format, when the text itself is essentially a heavily-reduced mishmash of earlier texts.  I can quite easily and realistically imagine that, when Barrett published The Magus, the hardliners then would have the same complaints about DSIC then as hardliners today might have about SS.  Of course, is simplicity a bad thing?  Not by my standard, so long as it works.  Does DSIC work?  Yup, and that’s the important bit.  And the same could be said of Fr. RO’s style of DSIC, too; I can certainly claim to that.

At this point, we’ve basically covered all the physical implements of DSIC: the crystal, the pedestal for the crystal and the table to support that (or the combined Table of Practice if you want to take a simpler route), the lamens, the wand and book and candles and censer, and now the magic circle.  With all of the physical implements of DSIC finally described, what about making, consecrating, and using them?  This is where we start to both incorporate DSIC itself while departing from DSIC proper to flesh it all out as desired, and we’ll pick up on that next time.

4 responses

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

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

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

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

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