Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Orientation, Setting, Timing, and Lamen vs. Pentacle

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 to arrange the altar and the circle in the temple room. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

The reason we needed to figure out how to arrange the altar and the circle in the temple room is because we need to know how to actually position the altar within the overall temple space itself. Agrippa says that the “table or altar” should be “set towards the east” (book IV, chapter 10), which implies that the altar should be placed against the eastern wall of the temple space. However, if we place the table against the wall, then we can’t really use Fr. RO’s method of including the altar in the circle because we can’t really reach the bounds of the room behind the altar in that way. However, I have a way around this, based on something I learned from one of my pagan friends years back; instead of tracing the circle with the tip of the wand on the ground, one traces a circle with the tip of the wand pointed upwards at the edges of the room where the walls meet the ceilings. This is good for consecrating a whole room as a temple space, and can incorporate an altar positioned against the wall if needed, since one cannot walk or continually trace a circle behind the altar on the ground in such a case.

However, that method of pointing-up is an inspiration of my own that also goes against the DSIC instructions of tracing the circle on the ground. In all fairness, it is more likely that the altar should be placed against a wall, and the easier reading of DSIC suggests the circle for the magician to be placed in front of the altar and not containing it. To use another inspiration of my own, this time from my espiritismo (Cuban-style Kardeckian spiritism) practice, we place the boveda (altar for spirit guides and ancestors) against a wall because the wall acts as a natural “gate” through which spirits can enter. Having the altar positioned in front of a wall would agree with that notion, as well. Again, it’s not from DSIC nor from any Solomonic text I’ve ever read, but it does make sense in that regard. However, I don’t think that consideration is necessarily one to have ourselves beholden to; if you prefer the conjuration altar to be in the middle of the room, it’s not like the spirits will have any more difficulty reaching the crystal there than if it were a only a few inches from a wall.

Now, Agrippa says that the altar should be set towards the east; we might interpret this as being placed against the eastern wall, but if we were to use another interpretation that isn’t unreasonable, we might also read this as Agrippa saying that the altar should be set such that the objects on it are arranged towards the east, whether or not the altar is put against a wall. In other words, we’d arrange the altar so that we’d stand to the west of the altar facing it towards the east. This is also reasonable, and would allow us to trace a circle around the altar as in Fr. RO’s method. So, again, there are different approaches here based on how you want to interpret Agrippa, and either way works, whether you put the altar up against the eastern wall of a room or have it set up such that you face east when you sit before the altar.  This also matches up with pretty standard Christian practice (pre-Vatican II in the West and Catholic world), where traditionally the whole church would be oriented towards the East, and the priest would stand on the western side of the altar facing the East to perform the Eucharist.

But does our ritual direction always have to be east? Agrippa says so, and after all, this is the direction of the sunrise, and is the direction that churches are supposed to be oriented towards, as the sunrise is the direction of Light entering the world, which has definite Christological overtones. But it doesn’t seem like this is the case when implemented by different authors, or at least, not always. Fr. RO in his old Modern Goetic Grimoire arranges the items on the altar in a way that doesn’t suggest the altar is set towards the east, but more like to the north or the south (and, I’d argue, towards the north):

Set up the Table of Practice on a surface you can sit in front of and comfortable gaze into the scrying medium. Place whatever you will be scrying in the center of the Triangle. Place the Wand to the East of the Table of Practice, and the Incense to the West.

Yet, in his White Work section quoted above, one should face east in the astral temple, which suggests that the altar itself is aligned towards the east. However, in another twist, in SS, the illustration he gives of the altar is very explicitly oriented towards the north, which is why he has the Table of Practice in SS set up with the archangel Gabriel at the “top” of the triangle, which he later replaced by Egyn the king of the North. This puts Michael/Oriens at the right of the Table of Practice to the East, which is where Fr. RO puts the wand at rest on the altar. This, combined with the odd order of planetary angels around the edge of the table, as noted before when we discussed the planetary stuff for the DSIC table, ties in with his understanding of the forces associated the four directions according to Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7). That Fr. RO faces north as a rule for his conjurations might be surprising, but consider that his style of implementing DSIC involves a brief invocation and empowerment taken from the Headless Rite of the Stele of Jeu the Hieroglyphist (PGM V.96—172), which is a staple of Fr. RO’s general magical practice. The Headless Rite instructs the magician to face north, which is the old direction of eternity and immortality in old Egyptian belief (and which we discussed here, here, and here when we talked about the pole stars in PGM magic). For Fr. RO, this is the default magical direction above and beyond any other.

But instead of defaulting to either the east or the north, we might consider using the other directions for specific types of conjuration. Fr. AC in GTSC gives a different direction for each of the seven planetary angels, but some with directions I can’t figure out where he got them from. Stunningly, Fr. AC gives a URL to the Archangels and Angels website (AAA) in the book for “the most reliable correspondence charts concerning these angels”, but while the link he gives is deformed, I was able to find the proper page here. (Note that you would need to use the links at the top of the page which get you the angels of the planets, not to the planetary links to the bottom which get you different correspondences). These webpages do include directions for the angels, but they don’t cite any sources for what they have listed as information, nor do they match up with any other list I can find.

The Liber Juratus Honorii (LJH) gives a set of directions for the angels of the planets (image courtesy, of course, of the wonderful Joseph Peterson of Esoteric Archives):

In addition to that, the Heptameron gives directions (“winds”) for the angels of the air for each of the seven days of the week (i.e. the seven planets), and then there’s Fr. RO’s method of using the four cardinal directions for the four elements from Agrippa’s Scale of Four and how the seven planets are allocated to that (book II, chapter 7). Here’s a table showing the different sets of directions I’ve found for the seven planets and their corresponding angels:

Agrippa LHJ Heptameron AAA
Saturn North North Southwest North
Jupiter West Southeast South Southwest
Mars East South East South
Sun East East North West/South
Venus West Southwest West North
Mercury North Northwest Southwest Northeast
Moon South West West West

Still, even checking through texts like Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables and going through all the texts I can think of that might touch on this, I can’t find anything that matches up with the AAA/GTSC directions. It would honestly shock (and outright appall) me if Fr. AC just uncritically used what some website says without a grimoiric source to back it up, and I’m definitely going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this that there is a legitimate grimoiric or scriptural source for these directional correspondences and accept them as having validity and not just some new-age woo behind them. Still, if anyone knows where AAA got their source from for the directions for the planetary angels, please do let me know either by email or in the comments, and I’ll update this bit of the post if and when I find out; I’m stumped and don’t know where this set of directions came from.

Also, as it turns out, Aaron Leitch wrote a blog post of his own not too long ago about the planetary rulership of the winds and what directions they should be ascribed to, taking a look at the Heptameron and LJH and correcting them to better fit with astrological and zodiacal paradigms, which gives us even more food for thought.

In any case and at any rate, in the end, when it comes to setting up the altar, we can pick a particular direction to have the whole shebang face, such that we face that same direction when seated in front of the altar:

  • Orient the altar to always face east for all spirits (what Agrippa instructs, under a Christian influence).
  • Orient the altar to always face north for all spirits (what Fr. RO instructs, under a Hermetic-Egyptian influence).
  • Orient the altar to face a particular direction associated with the planet of the spirit being conjured. Which direction you face depends on the direction specified by whatever text or correspondence system you’re working with.

Honestly, any of these systems work; I can see reasons and rationales for each of them. Use what’s most comfortable and convenient for you based on your setup and the space you’re working in. I’ve used East for the vast majority of my conjurations, but I’ve also used West and South when I had my temple set up with my altar pushed up against the wall to the only direction I had space for it with equally good results. If you find the direction to face to be important, face the right direction; if not, don’t worry about it. It can help, to be sure, but for the purposes of DSIC, if you can’t manage it, don’t sweat it.

Now that we know what direction the altar should face, what needs to go on top of it? Not much, honestly: the table (if separate from the actual altar table itself) with the pedestal and crystal (or just the Table of Practice with the crystal, if you’re taking that approach) and the two “holy wax lights” i.e consecrated candles set in their candlesticks. That’s all that needs to be on the altar, if you want to take a strict DSIC interpretation, like what Fr. AC describes and has shown before on his blog.

In that approach, in which you’d (most likely) have the magician standing in a circle that does not include the altar, you’d have the vessel for incense placed (most likely, as Fr. AC says) placed between you and the crystal in the space between the circle and the altar. Everything else (the incense itself, wand, ring, lamen, Liber Spirituum, pen, paper, etc.) would be with you inside the circle. For this reason, Fr. AC recommends you have a little table or shelf with you in the circle to hold all these items so that they’re ready and within arm’s reach without simply being put on the floor. Fr. AC also recommends having a stool or chair with you so that you’re not just standing the entire time, which can double as a place to hold the various DSIC instruments, too.

Alternatively, if you take the approach of drawing the circle around the altar, like what Fr. RO suggests in RWC and SS, then the altar that has the table and crystal and the two candles itself may serve as a place to put the incense, wand, and the like. A simple layout, not quite what Fr. RO describes in SS but which builds off of the stuff in RWC, is one that I shared a while back, using a simple IKEA LACK sidetable as my altar, at which I kneeled facing the East, with my notebook and extra supplies (just barely visible) placed underneath the altar:

In any case, the altar for conjuration doesn’t need to have a lot of stuff on it, and in general, the fewer things on it, the better. I would recommend using an otherwise cleared-off space that doesn’t have any unnecessary tools, talismans, statues, or other items on it that aren’t directly related or pertinent to the conjuration to be performed.

However, it can sometimes be beneficial to augment the altar a bit by including things resonant with the planet or the spirit you’re trying to conjure. For instance, using an appropriately-colored altar cloth, placing images of the seals or characters of the planet or the geomantic sigils associated with that planet on the altar, surrounding the table with the crystal with candles (smaller than the “two holy wax lights”) in a number or color appropriate to that planet, flower petals or other paraphernalia to beautify the altar for the spirit, and the like is often a good choice that I can’t not recommend. Consider this simple arrangement I used for the angel Tzadqiel of Jupiter, with hand-drawn images for the geomantic figures Acquisitio and Laetitia as well as the planetary number square seal for the planet itself, along with my personal planetary talisman of Jupiter:

Towards the end of the post on purification and preparation, we mentioned how Agrippa says that, in all the days leading up to the ritual, we should enter into our temple space and pray before the altar that we’re to perform the conjuration at, keeping the lamen covered with clean, white linen, which we are to then remove on the day of the ritual itself (book IV, chapter 10). Now, granted that the DSIC method of conjuration doesn’t match up with this prayer-based theurgic communion with “good spirits”, we can take this approach as well:

  1. On the evening before we begin our preparatory/purification pre-ritual period (however long that might be according to what you can manage and the severity of the ritual), set up the altar for conjuration with everything we would need, including the lamen of the spirit to be conjured. Cover the crystal, pedestal and table (or combined Table of Practice), and lamen with a veil (ideally of white linen). If desired, the ring and wand may also be covered as well.
  2. On the first day of the preparatory period, light the candles and begin your fast.
  3. On each day of the preparatory period as well as the day of the ritual itself, ablute, and pray at the altar while burning incense. Keep candles lit on the altar this whole time, lighting new candles from the flames of the old if necessary.
  4. On the final day of the preparatory period as well as the day of the ritual itself, keep a stricter fast than before.
  5. On the day of the ritual itself, anoint yourself with holy oil on the forehead and the eyelids, pray as before, then lift the veil from the altar and perform the conjuration ritual.

Now, that’s the ideal procedure, based on Agrippa’s recommendations from his Fourth Book; nothing is said of preparation for ritual like this in DSIC proper, but it’s certainly a good practice. However, if you can’t manage having an altar set up like this throughout the preparatory and ritual period, then don’t; set up the altar when you need to immediately before the ritual. However, I do think the preparatory process of fasting, ablution, and prayer should still be done, and although it’s best if it’s done at the altar of conjuration itself, it doesn’t need to be. If you have another shrine or prayer table you use for your daily prayers, just use that instead, or just kneel anywhere is convenient, quiet, and private for you every day and perform your prayers that way. Do what you can.

Of course, knowing when and how long to engage in our preparatory period necessitates knowing when the ritual itself will take place. This is the most straightforward thing we’ve talked about yet: use the planetary hour of the planet associated with the spirit. I’ve already written about planetary hours before, and they’re a staple of Western magic and astrology by this point that most people are already aware of, and that there are guides and calculators and apps that calculate them for you for any date and location, so I won’t get into it here. Suffice it here to say that we need to time the ritual for an appropriate planetary hour. Note that I’m only saying “planetary hour”, not “planetary hour and day”; you don’t need to wait for an hour of the Moon on Monday to perform a conjuration of Gabriel of the Moon, because any hour of the Moon on any day of the week will be enough. It might be better to perform such a conjuration of the lunar angel on both the hour and the day of the Moon, but it’s not necessary, because the hour is more important than the day.

Why do we know that only the hour matters, and not the day? Because the end of DSIC gives a list of the ruling hours and planets of each hour of each day of the week without specifying the ruling planet of the day itself. Plus, the DSIC text only talks about the hour itself:

In what time thou wouldest deal with the spirits by the table and crystal, thou must observe the planetary hour; and whatever planet rules in that hour, the angel governing the planet thou shalt call in the manner following…

(After noticing the exact hour of the day, and what angel rules that hour, thou shalt say:)…

More importantly, based on the way DSIC is written, the hour only matters for the actual conjuration prayer itself (the part starting “In the name of the blessed and holy Trinity, I do desire thee, thou strong mighty angel…”). This implies that we actually begin our prayers, setup, circle-tracing, and burning of incense in the hour leading up to the planetary hour we need for the conjuration, and the exact moment it becomes that planetary hour, we can issue the call for the appearance of the spirit. I don’t personally like this approach—I prefer to start the very first prayer of the DSIC ritual within the specific planetary hour we need—but, technically speaking, the moment that matters for the spirit we want is when we give the precise call to that spirit.

So long as you have the planetary hour correct, no other timing really matters. Of course, that’s not to say you don’t need to account for other factors that can increase the potency or efficacy of the ritual: planetary day, lunar phase and speed, retrograde motion of planets, declination of the Sun, planetary elections, eclipses, stars rising or culminating, and the like may all be taken into account as valid reasons to time a conjuration specifically to achieve a particular end. Heck, even taking into account the weather or the specific place you’re performing the conjuration can (and often will) make a difference. This is especially the case if you’re not just conjuring a spirit for the sake of communion and communication, but if you’re getting them to do something specific for you, such as consecrating/enlivening/ensouling a talisman or giving them a charge to take care of a particular task for you. However, in general, the planetary hour is the only thing you need to have right; everything else is a bonus, and while those bonuses can often be worth your while, they’re still just extra.

There is one last consideration, however, based on something we mentioned way back in the first post on the lamen design. We need to remember that the DSIC text says to put on “the pentacle”, not “the lamen” or “the holy table” like what the DSIC illustration says. Nobody has ever said or suggested anything else but that the pentacle refers to anything but the lamen, as even Joseph Peterson of Esoteric Archives says in his notes on the ritual that “the lamin [sic] is also referred to in the text as ‘the pentacle'”. This makes sense, as there’s no other mention of anything else that could be the lamen in the ritual text itself. However, we know that DSIC builds on earlier Solomonic literature like the Heptameron, which does clearly have a pentacle, as do other texts such as the Veritable Key of Solomon or the Lemegeton Goetia (both a hexagram and a pentagram, the hexagram to be saved until needed if spirits become disobedient and the pentagram to be put on the reverse side of the seal of the spirit to be conjured), as well as the Secret Grimoire of Turiel (which, paradoxically, does call it a lamen and has a distinctly different form than the others).

It could be that DSIC really isn’t referring to the lamen when it describes the pentacle to be worn in the ritual, but to an honest-to-God pentacle as used in other Solomonic literature. (Credit goes to the excellent Reverend Erik Arneson of Arnemancy and My Alchemical Bromance for raising this possibility to me.) In which case, we would need to get one of those and prepare it properly, made in a day and hour of Mercury (or those of the Sun or Moon, at least for the pentagram-formed pentacle of Solomon from the Lemegeton Goetia) with the Moon waxing (or, according to the Veritable Key of Solomon, when the Moon is at first quarter or last quarter), on new clean white paper or parchment (or, alternatively, on a square plate of silver, according to the literal instructions in DSIC itself), sprinkled with holy water and anointed with holy oil. When putting it on, one may recite the “Benediction of the Lamens” from the Secret Grimoire of Turiel over it.

But if that’s the case—that we’d need a proper Solomonic pentacle instead of an Agrippan-style lamen of the spirit to wear—where should the lamen of the spirit go? There are two options that I can reasonably see. The first is a synthetic approach: we still make and wear the lamen as normal, but we put the pentagram-formed pentacle of Solomon from the Lemegeton Goetia on the back of the lamen. The side for the spirit should be made in the day and hour of the planet for that spirit, but the pentagram on the reverse side should be made in a day and hour of the Sun, both sides made when the Moon is waxing in the same lunar month. Only once both sides are finished should the lamen be sprinkled with holy water, anointed, suffumigated, etc. to finish it off before it can be used in conjuration by being worn.

For the second approach, we make one of the hexagram-formed Solomonic pentacles as desired above and wear that at the appropriate step, but let’s follow Agrippa’s suggestion instead that the lamen for the spirit should be placed on the conjuration altar. Where on the conjuration altar should the lamen be placed? Considering how DSIC diverges from Agrippa on this point, there’s no one good answer; we could simply place the lamen on the altar in front of the crystal on the altar. However, something better comes to mind: put the lamen on the table under the crystal. If you’re using a pedestal, place the lamen for the spirit in the center of the triangle directly underneath the pedestal base; if you’re not using a pedestal but a Table of Practice instead, simply place the lamen underneath the crystal. The lamen, then, would not be made to be worn with a hole and strap put through it, but instead should be sized to fit cleanly within the triangle on the table (or Table of Practice). This way, the spirit to be conjured would not only be drawn into the crystal by the prayers and direction of the magician, but drawn further by its own name and seal down into the crystal in the triangle itself, acting as a symbolic magnet to draw the spirit down into the crystal from the celestial realms—or, alternatively, to draw it up from the chthonic realms into the crystal. This is actually a really neat idea, and one that makes total sense, providing a neat blend of both the usual Solomonic technique and technology of pentacles as well as the Agrippan method of using the lamen as a focus for conjuration and communion with the spirit themselves.

These options, of course, are nowhere discussed in DSIC, nor have I ever encountered anyone ever suggesting them. But they are valid alternatives that are still within the realm of reason and possibility for DSIC implementation, given the ambiguous wording of the ritual text itself and the historical and literary context from which it arose. It’s something to play with and experiment, to be sure.

On that note, I think we’re good for today. We’ve gotten up to this point, and now, having discussed all the tools and supplies and layouts and setups and preparations, we’re actually (finally) ready to discuss the prayers and structure of the actual conjuration of DSIC. We’ll do that next time.

8 responses

  1. I just realized from these pictures that you use a smaller piece for the triangle on top of the Table of Practice. That’s pretty nice if you plan to vary the direction faced for the conjuration; I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

    • Do you mean in my photos (the second two), or Fr. AC’s photos (the first two)? In my case, I’m using a Fr. RO-style Table of Practice; the “extra bit” there is just a replication of the triangle, nothing special. In Fr. AC’s case, he’s using the pedestal and the table (not a Table of Practice!). In either case, however, I don’t think either of us (nor Fr. RO, but it’s hard to tell) would rotate the table (or Table of Practice) to align with the directions, such that Oriens would always face East, Egyn north, and so forth. That’s not a bad idea, I suppose, but I honestly feel really awkward about it; having the triangle pointed in any other direction besides away from me feels…uncomfortable. Plus, the way we designed the arrangement of angel names on the pedestal (see the earlier post about that and the table design) would also expect to be aligned to the East, or at least with Oriens at the opposite end of the altar from the magician regardless of how the altar itself is oriented. Hm hm.

      However, this problem is also kind of a moot point for me; as I discussed earlier on about the table design, I think the table designs that use two rings of names (one for the planetary angels and one for the directional entities) are a misreading of what DSIC is actually saying, which is to use two circles and thus one ring of names (a single ring containing both the planetary angels AND the directional entities).

      You bring up a good point that I hadn’t considered: if you have the table (or Table of Practice) separate from the altar (i.e. a separate piece of equipment instead of having the design permanently engraved/painted/etc. on the altar surface itself), you could keep the alignment of the table (or Table of Practice) always aligned to the East regardless how the altar (and pedestal/crystal) are oriented. I’ll add this in the recap post; thank you!

  2. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Actual Ritual Itself « The Digital Ambler

  3. “Agrippa says that the “table or altar” should be “set towards the east” (book IV, chapter 10), which implies that the altar should be placed against the eastern wall of the temple space. ”

    I would say the literal meaning here would be to *face* the table towards the east. Though I would suggest it could also imply setting it in the eastern quarter of the Circle – which would also imply facing it eastward as well.

    • It’s good to see you here, Aaron!

      I’m a little unclear what you mean by that; do you mean, by facing the east, the altar should be arranged such that to stand in front of the altar would be to face west? I think that’s what I’m getting from the first suggestion there.

  4. “In any case and at any rate, in the end, when it comes to setting up the altar, we can pick a particular direction to have the whole shebang face, such that we face that same direction when seated in front of the altar:”

    Another option: Bring up a skymap and see where the Planet actually is in the sky at the time you’re working, and set up actually to face it. (If it’s in the sky, you’ll get the celestial aspect. If it’s under the horizon, you get the chthonic aspect.) I may have said too much… lol

    • That’s another really good option that I entirely glossed over; that’s the approach in Picatrix, and I’m annoyed that I forgot about it. Plus, the whole ouranic/chthonic influence of having it be above or below the horizon is also a really neat thing. Thank you! I’ll bring up those options in the recap post, for sure.

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

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