Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Setting Up the Temple

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 discussed how we would need to dress and how we need to prepare in the days leading up to the conjuration. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

Alright, so!  We’ve got all our tools made and prepared; we’ve got our temple garments (or conjuration costume) ready; we’ve been fasting and abluting and praying like crazy for the sake of purifying ourselves. What we need to do next—which, if we wanted to go by Agrippa’s recommendation (book IV, chapter 10), we should have taken care of at the start of our purification process—is to actually set up our temple space and the altar of conjuration that we’ll need.  We’ll assume, for the sake of this post, the ideal situation of having a separate room in our house with a door that can be shut for privacy to serve as our temple; having a separate room, after all, to serve as our temple is the ideal for any magician or occultist, but this isn’t strictly necessary for the sake of our needs, and you can make do all the same. So long as, like Agrippa recommends, the place in question be “clean, pure, close, quiet, free from all manner of noise, and not subject to any strangers sight”, then you would be fine. Agrippa does recommend that “this place must first be exorcised and consecrated”, by which he means (based on the rest of the stuff in Agrippa’s Fourth Book) we would first sprinkle the place with holy water, suffumigate it with incense (frankincense is fine, church incense or a blend of frankincense with myrrh and benzoin would be better), and pray either Psalm 51:7 (as in the Heptameron) or 2 Chronicles 16:14-42 (as per Agrippa).

And yes, I do personally recommend that one should have a separate room set apart for their magical works; in this, I am entirely in line with Fr. AC when he says in GTSC that “a magical room should be a priority”. Having a separate room that is undefiled and unprofaned by mundane works or senseless chatter, or people walking in and out, or people or pets messing with your altars and shrines and tools really does make a difference. But I also know that not everyone has the space, means, or ability to set apart a whole separate room for magical works; moreover, I know many magicians, witches, and occultists who do positively phenomenal work without having a dedicated temple room, but instead who operate in hallways or kitchens or bedrooms. It’s far more often the case throughout human history, in every continent and culture and era, that people lived in simple one- or two-room dwellings, and simply didn’t have the luxury of a fully contained separate room for magical works like the upper-class echelons of magical society, and it’s not like they weren’t doing or couldn’t do magic in such circumstances, nor would they willingly let that stop them. If you have the means to do so, get a separate room for temple and magical stuff; if not, despite that Fr. AC “cannot condone this method”, I wouldn’t worry too much, since you’re in about 6000 years and six continents of good company. In the case where you don’t have a separate temple room, spend a bit of extra time purifying, sanctifying, and arranging everything in the space in which you’ll do temple stuff; you can still do DSIC-style conjurations and other magical practices all the same.

What comes to mind when I read this section of Agrippa is the Alchemist’s Laboratory woodcut from Heinrich Khunrath’s 1595 work Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae, or “Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom”. Note that the alchemist in question has a special oratory set aside in his laboratory at which he kneels before a table covered with a cloth and a baldachin, the latter denoting that this is specifically an altar, especially with the sanctuary lamp hanging inside. Note also how he kneels before an open book with magical circles; this could be an interpretation of a Liber Spirituum or some other text of devotional and occult focus.

Alternatively, for those who’d prefer a different approach, an oratory of the kind described in the Sacred Magic of Abramelin could also be used quite nicely. Although that text uses a completely different approach of conjuring spirits, and that only after one attains contact with their Holy Guardian Angel, book II, chapter 11 describes the nature and construction of such a place (which far exceeds the demands of what we need for DSIC, but which gives us many other good ideas to play with if possible):

He who commenceth this operation in solitude can elect a place according unto his pleasure; where there is a small wood, in the midst of which you shall make a small altar, and you shall cover the same with a hut (or shelter) of fine branches, so that the rain may not fall thereon and extinguish the lamp and the censer. Around the altar at the distance of seven paces you shall prepare a hedge of flowers, plants, and green shrubs, so that it may divide the entrance [path] into two parts; that is to say, the interior where the altar and tabernacle will be placed after the manner of a temple; and the part exterior, which with the rest of the place will be as a portico thereunto.

Now if you commence not this operation in the country, but perform it in a town, or in some dwelling place, I will show unto ye what shall be necessary herein.

Ye shall choose an apartment which hath a window, joined unto the which shall be an uncovered terrace (or balcony), and a lodge (or small room or hut) covered with a roof, but so that there may be on every side windows whence you may be able to see in every direction, and whence you may enter into the oratory. In the which place [terrace or balcony] the evil spirits shall be able to appear, since they cannot appear within the oratory itself. In the which place, beside the oratory towards the quarter of the North, you shall have a rooted or covered lodge, in the which and from whence one may be able to see the oratory. I myself also had two large windows made in my oratory, and at the time of the convocation of the spirits, I used to open them and remove both the shutters and the door, so that I could easily see on every side and constrain them [the spirits] to obey me.

The oratory should always be clear and clean swept, and the flooring should be of wood, of white pine; in fine, this place should be so well and carefully prepared, that one may judge it to be a place destined unto prayer.

The terrace and the contiguous lodge where we are to invoke the spirits we should cover with river sand to the depth of two fingers at the least…

The chamber [of the oratory itself] should be boarded with pine wood, and a [beautiful] lamp [of gold or silver] full of oil olive should be suspended therein, the which every time that ye shall have burned your perfume and finished your orison, ye shall extinguish. A handsome censer of bronze, or of silver if one hath the means, must be placed upon the altar, the which should in no wise be removed from its place until the operation be finished, if one performeth it in a dwelling-house; for in the open country one cannot do this. Thus in this point as in all the others, we should rule and govern ourselves according unto the means at our disposal.

Still, as I said above, you don’t need a separate room to act as your temple or oratory.  It would be ideal for any number of reasons, but it’s simply not necessary—arguably ideal, sure, but not strictly necessary. If you have your own bedroom with a door that can be shut for privacy, then you’ve already got all you need. If you don’t have even that much, however, then pick a time when there aren’t people at home for you to do your conjuration. You don’t want to be bothered or have people walk in on the middle of you standing in a magic circle, after all. Barring that, find somewhere desolate away from people, foot traffic, and attention where you can work, or borrow/rent a space somewhere you can do what you need to do.  Purify and prepare the space accordingly (which is something you’d do anyway, even if you had a dedicated temple room!).

Okay, so let’s now say you have your temple room (or at least a temple space within a room) set up. Now we need to build and set up the altar of conjuration; how should we make that? Honestly, it doesn’t matter, so long as it can support the implements of DSIC. Fr. AC has a sumptuous Altar of the Stars, described both on his blog and in GTSC, set up with the Grand Seal of Solomon for the table to be placed upon and circumscribed pentagrams for the candlesticks, edged with planetary characters and geomantic sigils, with the planetary glyphs on one side of the main pillar and (what he says but which very readily and apparently aren’t, perhaps inspired instead from the Complete Book of Magic Science by Hockley?) the “Armadel Olympic spirit sigils” on the other, zodiacal glyphs on the support pillars, and a circumscribed hexagram on the base under the main pillar (and thus connecting the table with the Earth itself)…

…but, let’s face it, this is entirely unnecessary and entirely fanciful. I adore Fr. AC’s inspiration and work here, as ever, but let’s be honest: nobody needs something like this. Fr. AC, after all, is well-known not just for going “by the book” when it comes to many grimoires, but also for going well above and beyond them in a beautiful, and sometimes overmuch, manner. This sort of thing falls into the category of what I call “ritual-specific furniture”; as opposed to ritual-specific tools, which I find reasonable enough to make and keep around (though I find good reason for making them general or syncretized enough to be general tools if necessary), ritual-specific furniture is something I internally rebel at and am repulsed by. Even I, with my large basement temple room with ample space to spare, still like keeping the furniture itself just plain furniture in case I need to reorganize, disassemble, combine, or the like. Unless you’re going to make DSIC the One Thing You Do Forever, you don’t need something like this that takes up so much space to be used for this one ritual. That said, there are a number of good reasons to make something like Fr. AC’s , but at least as many and as good reasons to not do so.

Instead of something like what Fr. AC has, you could use a Golden Dawn-/Thelema-style double cube altar, or the altar from Abramelin (same selection as before):

The altar should be erected in the midst of the oratory; and if anyone maketh his oratory in desert places, he should build it of stones which have never been worked or hewn, or even touched by the hammer…

The altar, which should be made of wood, ought to be hollow within after the manner of a cupboard, wherein you shall keep all the necessary things, such as the two robes, the crown or mitre, the wand, the holy oils, the girdle or belt, the perfume; and any other things which may be necessary.

Honestly? You don’t need a specific kind of altar for DSIC. That function is, after all, provided by the DSIC table (or the Table of Practice) itself; the DSIC table is what makes whatever it’s sitting on “an altar”, in a sense, but in reality, the DSIC table is the altar.  After all, it’s not called a “table” for nothing. Yes, the consecrated candles should go next to the DSIC table on either side and collectively may be thought of as “the altar” as a whole, but it’s really just the DSIC table itself that’s needed. Because of that, any table, altar, or clean horizontal surface will suffice to work for the ritual. It should be sturdy enough to not wobble around when things are put on it, when it’s bumped into, or when people walk with a heavy step around it.

Likewise, the altar should be tall enough to view the crystal on at a comfortable level, whether or not a pedestal is used—though, if a pedestal is used, the height of the altar upon which the DSIC table is placed should be considered and adjusted accordingly.  However, you may want to go with a shorter or higher altar depending on whether you prefer to stand during the ritual, sit on a stool or a chair, or kneel before it.  Your specific approach is up to you, but you don’t want to strain your back or neck because of an awkward height mismatch between your preferred posture and the crystal on the altar.  Be aware that conjurations can go on for quite some time, especially if you get more advanced in the work and endure multiple hours of ritual work in this way, so you’ll want something that can be used comfortably for an indefinite period of time.

Fundamentally, since it’s just a piece of supporting non-specific furniture, nothing about the altar table matters so long as it’s sturdy and tall enough without being too tall; I’ve used IKEA LACK sidetables and NORRÅKER bar tables just fine. I do think that the table should be washed with holy water and suffumigated with incense at minimum before its initial use, like with the temple garments and other miscellanea according to Agrippa, perhaps anointed with oil on its corners and legs, perhaps with a bit of extra prayer that it be clean and cleansed and fit for spiritual work, but that’s about it. Nothing more needs to be done with it to make it ready, since it’s a relatively minor consideration after all the actual tool making.

That being said, recall something we said earlier when we discussed the process and elements needed for constructing and consecrating all our DSIC implements about the table, that we could use either a separate piece of equipment for the table that has the proper design on it, or we could use an actual table surface instead, something like Fr. AC’s Altar of the Stars, but instead of having the pentacle from the Veritable Key of Solomon on it in the center, have the actual table design (or Table of Practice design) permanently emblazoned on it. This is also entirely a legitimate approach, as DSIC is not clear on whether “the table” refers to an actual table or to a smaller, more moveable piece of equipment that can be used as a base for the pedestal and/or crystal. I don’t like this latter approach of using an actual table with the design permanently put onto/into it (again, my revulsion at having permanently-designated ritual furniture instead of flexible altar tools), but you can take this approach as well if you want.

Now, how do we set up the altar in the temple space? This depends on whether you want to have your altar against a wall or standing apart from a wall, such that you can walk around it. And this is where we get into another major divergence in DSIC implementation between the DSIC styles of Fr. AC and Fr. RO, especially when you factor in the magic circle: should the altar be placed inside the magic circle or outside it? DSIC doesn’t explicitly say. Fr. Acher from Theomagica shows how his temple setup looks like for conjurations, putting his Table of Practice on top of a double-cube altar in the middle of the magic circle he uses:

This is the approach that basically Fr. RO uses, too, and which I’ve used in the past. That said, now that I think about it…I can’t find any specific reference to this approach in Fr. RO’s RWC or SS; he seems to be as unclear as DSIC is in his written works, but the closest I can find is in his old Modern Goetic Grimoire that says:

When you have the area and tools prepared, begin by casting a Circle. I stand in front of the setup [altar with all the items upon it], and pointing the wand to the East, I turn, tracing out a circle that encompasses the area I will be sitting in. I say “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I consecrate this ground for our defense.” It’s a traditional Christian Magician’s method that I lifted from the Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, I believe. It works, and it’s easy. If you’re not a Christian, feel free to substitute whatever names you are more comfortable using. IAO is particularly effective.

By Fr. RO saying to “stand in front of the setup, pointing the wand to the East”, this probably suggests that Fr. RO is directing us to have the altar outside the circle, assuming the altar itself is placed east of the magician performing the ritual, and by standing “in front of the setup”, he means to our front. It could mean that “in front of” means on the side opposite the altar, to the altar’s own East. I actually don’t know, now, where I got my approach of placing the altar inside the circle with me; it might have been based off Fr. Acher’s designs. However, going through the old Yahoo! Group messages for Fr. RO’s RWC, it seems that the consensus there, as well, was to have the altar inside the circle. There’s also the instructions he gives in his old Gates texts from his Green Work:

Take your wand and trace out a circle on the ground around you while you say: …

Then place the incense burner next to your Table of Practice and light the charcoal and sprinkle incense on it, or light the incense stick and say: …

And again from the (astral temple) conjuration done from Lesson 4 of the White Work course:

If you enter through the main doors, you will find your Astral temple all set up. There will be an altar with the elemental tools and planetary seals and everything you use in your daily ritual work, only represented more symbolically than the actual items you use in the “real” world.

Lift the wand and trace out a magic circle around the Temple. Do it the same way in your vision as you do when you conjured Michael and the Genius.

Return the wand to its proper place, and face the East in your Astral Temple…

Between the Gates text (which implies having the altar close enough to reach and manipulate the incense burner on it), the White Work description (which implies having a circle to cover the whole astral temple area including the altar, and then putting the wand back on the altar), and the consensus in the RWC Yahoo! group, plus my own dim recollection of associating this format with Fr. RO, I think there’s a good chance Fr. RO can be associated with this method. Plus, in my own recent personal talks with the man himself to confirm, this is in fact his approach: the circle is traced on the ground with the wand to encompass the whole ritual space, altar and magician both.

It’s important to recognize here what Fr. RO’s specific logic is for placing the altar inside the magician’s circle. In his style of implementing DSIC, he foregoes any formally-drawn circle of art like what we discussed before, and merely traces a circle out with the wand as a means of creating a sacred temple space, which ideally encompasses the whole room used for the ritual but which may be whittled down to just encompass the immediate ritual space. That’s it; the circle doesn’t physically exist by being drawn out in ink or chalk or coal, but by the very act of tracing it with the wand, it spiritually/astrally exists, which is all that matters for the consecration of the temple space. For Fr. RO, the physical circle is an unnecessary formality, and in fact, even drawing any circle with the wand is likewise unnecessary as well, because the actual circle that matters for the protection of the magician is that drawn on the DSIC table itself; the magicians themselves don’t need their own circle since one is already present. The circle that protects the magician is the circle on the Table of Practice itself, which serves to contain the spirit from the magician. For the Fr. RO approach, whether the magician stands inside a circle or whether the spirit does doesn’t matter, so long as there’s a separation at all, and that separation is provided by the Table of Practice as it is by its very design.

But, more than that, Fr. RO considers it helpful (especially in the elevation- and initiation-focused Gates rites in RWC and in SS generally) that we be put as close to the spirit as possible, in effect helping us to raise our own sphere (itself represented physically/astrally by the circle we draw) to the level of the planet whose angel we’re conjuring and seeking initiation from. After all, consider that there’s no magic circle used at all by Agrippa in his primary, prayer-based method of conjuring good spirits that involves the use of lamens (book IV, chapter 10); it’s only in his ecstatic whirling-dervish method that he uses for good spirits, as well as for the conjuration of evil spirits (book IV, chapter 12), that circles are described for the magician to stand in. Fr. RO adapts DSIC to forego any Solomonic-style, Heptameron-style, or DSIC-style formal circle of art for use with conjurations of angelic spirits (or “good spirits” generally) because, according to Agrippa, they’re simply not needed. Fr. RO does use the circle of art from the Lemegeton Goetia in his old Modern Goetic Grimoire, and as we discussed above, but that’s also because that text doesn’t conjure what Agrippa would call “good spirits”.

Anyhow, so much for Fr. RO’s approach for putting the altar inside the circle. Then there’s Fr. AC who prefers the method of putting the altar outside the circle. Though he is aware of the inside-the-circle altar approach and “considered this option at length”, which suggests that even Fr. AC gives this option a good amount of credibility, Fr. AC went with the outside-the-circle approach based on a specific phrasing of the placement of the incense vessel in the DSIC text:

Then place the vessel for the perfumes between thy circle and the holy table on which the crystal stands…

This could be interpreted in one of two ways:

  1. The magician has a circle within which both they and the altar are contained. The magician stands with the altar in front of them, and the vessel for incense behind the altar but still within the circle. Alternatively, the vessel may be placed on the altar itself but behind the crystal.
  2. The magician has a circle within which they stand, but outside of which stands the altar. The vessel for incense is placed outside the circle between the circle and the altar that has the crystal or, alternatively, on the altar itself before the crystal.

It’s that second approach that seems the most clear, even though it goes counter to Agrippa (book IV, chapter 10) which says to have “a Censer be set on the head of the altar, wherein you shall kindle the holy fire, and make a perfume every day that you shall pray”, but we know that DSIC is diverging from Agrippa here on the specifics of the conjuration and is using a combined good-spirit/bad-spirit approach. Besides, Fr. AC using the altar-outside-the-circle approach ties in well with other Solomonic literature, especially the famous Lemegeton Goetia, which places the Triangle of Art outside the circle.

More than that, though, there are two other reasons that I myself find this altar-outside-the-circle approach to be likely. The first is the phrasing of the circle from the DSIC image: “the magic Circle of a simple construction in which the operator must stand or sit when he uses the Chrystal”. Nothing is said about the table or crystal being inside the circle, just the magician. Granted, this isn’t a strong reason, but it does suggest that the circle is meant to hold the magician and only the magician, and not the conjuration apparatus of crystal, pedestal, and table.

The other reason, and a far more practical one, that I find that the altar-outside-the-circle approach is what’s meant. Consider that DSIC instructs us to “take your black ebony wand, with the gilt characters on it and trace the circle”. DSIC doesn’t tell us which hand, but we can assume the right hand which is the hand that wears the ring of Solomon (and is the dominant hand for most people, and in general is historically considered the “correct” hand for works like this). Moreover, he doesn’t tell us in which direction to draw the circle, whether clockwise or counterclockwise, but the general practice is to draw circles clockwise, at least when tracing them out. Now, picture these three scenarios in your mind, dear reader:

  1. If we’re drawing a relatively small circle, in which we can stand in one place and simply rotate in place with the wand on the ground, then we just need to turn our bodies clockwise.
  2. If we’re drawing a large circle, we need to walk forward clockwise around the circle with the wand in our right hand lowered to our left, arm crossing our path, which can be clunky.
  3. Alternatively, for a large circle, we need to walk backwards around the circle with the wand in our right hand lowered down to our right. This is even clunkier and less elegant than the second.

It’s far easier and more elegant to go with the first option, which assumes that (a) there’s nothing in the circle with you that would block you from just spinning in place with the wand extended outwards (b) the circle itself that you’re standing in isn’t very large to begin with. If you’re working in a large circle, then option #1 won’t be possible no matter what (as the bounds of the circle are too far away from the center to reach with the wand), and option #3 looks and feels both ridiculous and awkward. This makes #2 the arguably better choice for large circles, and especially those that have extra equipment (chairs, tables, supplies, people, etc.) inside them, but it can still be clunky. With a wand of sufficient length (recommended to be the length from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger), so long as you bend down a bit, you can make a circle of a pretty good size for yourself and trace it in the easy option of #1 without introducing the clunkiness of options #2 and #3. It’s this practical consideration, I think, that also suggests having the altar outside the circle, since it could not be done if there was anything big in our way.

There is the consideration, of course, of the danger that might be present in placing the altar containing the locus of manifestation in the circle with us; after all, if the whole purpose of a circle is to protect ourselves from the danger presented to us by spirits we conjure, why would we conjure that spirit inside the circle where we’re supposed to be protected by it? This is safe using the DSIC method, because the DSIC table itself is bounded by a circle of its own. According to the usual rules of spiritual geometry, just as spirits outside a circle cannot enter into it, spirits inside a circle cannot leave it. The triangle helps bring them to manifestation as well as binds them (as in Agrippa’s “evil spirit” methods), and the circle keeps them put; thus, even if the spirits we’re conjuring are inside the magician’s circle with us, the spirits themselves are in their own inner circle beyond which they cannot pass. In effect, the table design is its own “magic circle” that keeps the magician protected, whether or not we use a separate magic circle for ourselves—though, as mentioned before, it would be good to do so to cut ourselves off from the other influences and powers outside the ritual space we want to work within.

There’s also the consideration that some people have wondered about that having the altar for the manifestation of the spirit inside the magic circle weakens the spirit, or stifles the connection, or otherwise impedes the manifestation of the spirit. I don’t buy it; after all, if that were the case, then us standing in a circle outside the altar at all would likewise stifle our connection, perception, or communication with the spirit, whether or not they had their own locus or triangle or table or crystal. On top of that, if we consider DSIC equipment by the book, the spirits manifest in a crystal which is bounded by two circles, the first provided by the gold plate with names on the front and the back, and the second by the circles on the table itself upon which the pedestal stands. I don’t give this consideration any credence.

Honestly, either approach works, whether you place the altar for the table and crystal inside the circle with you (as Fr. RO does) or outside the circle (as Fr. AC does). The specific phrasing of DSIC could be read in a more Agrippa-style way (placing the vessel for incense between the crystal and the far edge of the circle, at the “head of the altar”) or in a more common-sense, Lemegeton Goetia way (placing the vessel for incense between you and the crystal in the gap between the circle and the altar). Either way works. Use what you feel most appropriate doing.

Now that we have that out of the way, there’s one more thing to consider: how do we actually set up the altar, and how do we orient it? Is there a specific direction we need to face for DSIC-style conjurations? We’ll talk about that next time.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Orientation, Setting, Timing, and Lamen vs. Pentacle « The Digital Ambler

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

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