Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: What To Do When Things Go Wrong

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 what changes we might make to the ritual script of DSIC if we wanted with non-angelic spirits, especially those of a more demonic nature in line with traditional Solomonica.  If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

One of the reasons why I wanted to write up my own (far more long-winded than I ever intended) analysis and description of DSIC is because, at heart, I’m an engineer.  I went to school for engineering, specifically with a focus in computer science and software engineering and development, and one of my professional skills is that of a technical writer.  While I might take a more colloquial, conversational tone in my blog posts, those who are familiar with my ebooks might have picked up that I’m much more formal and logical when I write specific guides, because I am a lover of procedure, process, method, and methodology.  It’s why I was so exact in the individual steps in my DSIC ritual script, describing the specific placement and motions and gestures to be made that neither DSIC nor Fr. RO nor even Fr. AC went to such lengths to describe, because I like making sure that every single step of the ritual is clear for both myself and others so that the exact same process can be replicated even if you haven’t seen it before or been shown it previously.  I’d like to think that I’m doing the world a good and helpful thing this way, but only time will tell.

It’s because I’m such a lover of process and method that I can be a bit neurotic when it comes to what-ifs.  Besides just going over alternative designs or conjurations to account for varying theologies, cosmologies, theories, desires, and components that underlie our own individual approaches to DSIC, I can also be paranoid sometimes about “what if this doesn’t work” or “what if things don’t work how I wanted them to” or “what if something happens that wasn’t supposed to happen”.  And, unfortunately, neither DSIC nor Fr. RO (in RWC and SS both) nor Fr. AC (in GTSC) really talk about anything to allay such fears of mine; I’ve had to resort to my own research and experimentation, sometimes playing things by ear under just such a circumstance, so that I can (hopefully) come out at least no worse than I was going into the experiment.  Today, we’ll talk about what happens when you use the DSIC conjuration and things don’t go right.

Honestly, there are as many things that can go wrong (or, at least unexpectedly) that there are things that you would perform the DSIC conjuration for to begin with.  I can’t account for your own individual experiments, needs, or desires, so while there’s plenty to talk about for niche or specific cases, it’s only of necessity (and not wanting to drag this out any further) that I can’t go into every possible thing that can go wrong.  But, as far as the DSIC ritual script is concerned, there are a few things that we can talk about that you should be prepared for just in case they happen.

We will assume, for the sake of this post, that you’re performing the DSIC conjuration ritual as close as you can without needless modifications, and that you’re doing things as correctly as you can: you did the preliminary preparations and purifications, you said all the prayers right and gracefully, you’re calling upon a particular spirit within the proper planetary hour, and the like.  Even though everything should work out fine, there’s always the chance that they won’t, and you should be aware of your options to take when things go sideways—or don’t go at all.

When the Spirit Won’t Show Up
This is the most common thing that can happen for a lot of people: you start the ritual as normal, you recite the prayer of conjuration (attempt #1), and…nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  Silence.  Null and void.  You wait a bit, you try to open your spiritual eyes and ears and mind, and there’s just nothing there to perceive.  The spirit just isn’t there.

In this case, try it again; recite the prayer of conjuration once again (attempt #2).  If, after waiting a bit again and silently listening and looking and perceiving, you still get nothing, recite it once more (attempt #3) and try perceiving the spirit again.  Don’t vary the prayers, don’t change anything else; if anything, light a bit more incense (not necessary if you’re using self-igniting incense), and just repeat the prayer of conjuration of the spirit up to three times.  Don’t try to trick yourself into seeing or hearing or perceiving something that isn’t there; if it’s there, you’ll know.

If the spirit still doesn’t show up after the third time, you can’t proceed with the authentication or communion of the spirit.  There are two courses of action you can take here, either one or both, if you so choose:

  1. Ask the spirit to specifically reveal itself to you in a way that you can perceive, whether by sight, sound, or any other sense.  Give it a chance to reform and reconfigure itself into a form that you can actually work with.  You can also, instead of this or in addition to it, either pray to God for help in opening up your mind and spiritual perception or ask for the spirit’s help in doing just that, just a touch, so that you can align yourself better with the spirit to perceive it better.
  2. Whether or not you can perceive the spirit, treat it like it’s there regardless.  State aloud what you conjured it for, give it a charge, and issue any requests you wanted to make.  Don’t go crazy and try to do any heavy scrying, pathworking, consecration, or anything like that, but if it’s something simple like intel-gathering or fixing a problem or helping with a situation, keep it clear, concise, and concrete.

Whether you took option #1, option #2, both, or neither, the ritual shouldn’t be outright aborted, but you should proceed to the dismissal of the spirit.  Even if you tried to conjure the spirit and swear that nothing showed up at all, there’s always the chance that something did show up and you just didn’t pick up on it, so as a matter of protocol, you should always give a license to depart.  Proceed with that normally, then wrap up the ritual as normal.

After the ritual, take account of what might have gone wrong.  Was the planetary hour correct?  Did you get the planetary hour right but the planetary day wrong (not that should matter, but it could)?  Was the planet that presides over the spirit maligned, harmed, impedited, or otherwise badly affected in any way?  Is Mercury currently retrograde?  Is the Moon doing something weird, like is it void of course or in the Via Combusta?  Did you not prepare for the ritual appropriately with ablutions, prayers, fasting, and purifications?  Did you use the wrong kind of incense?  Were you wearing anything different?  Did you set up different wards or protections on the temple space than normal?  Were you sick or getting over being sick?  Are you taking any different medications?  Have you made offerings to your ancestors, land spirits, and spirit guides lately?  Try to find out where things might have gone wrong, especially if you have a track record of successful conjurations, and see what can be improved upon in your general approach.

When the Spirit You Get Isn’t the One You Wanted
So you’re doing the conjuration, and you make the prayer of conjuration, and wahey! a spirit shows up.  But something’s off: you don’t get the resonance you expected, the spirit isn’t at all what you thought it would look or are used to it looking, and when proceeding with the questions of authentication, the spirit clearly and unambiguously says that it is certainly not the spirit you explicitly called upon, neither by name nor office nor seal nor nature nor function.  You got a spirit, but it’s not the one you called upon.  Although it’s rare that such a spirit will just randomly pop up in your crystal, it can happen, and has happened to me a very few number of times before as it has to some of my colleagues.  I can’t exactly trace why or under what circumstances—I find that performing conjurations during Mercury’s retrograde periods tends to cause a slightly higher number of weird events when dealing with a ritual that explicitly involves communication, especially when dealing with planets that are on the same level or higher than Mercury itself—but it happens.  So what should we do?

First, ask the spirit who and what it is.  In most occasions, the spirit just ended up there seeing a window of opportunity to hijack the conjuration ritual for their own ends, butting out any other spirit to take their place so as to get your attention.  Be polite and friendly, but don’t exactly be welcoming; after all, they weren’t the one you were calling, and they’re not the ones you invited.  Sometimes such a spirit has a distinct and honest need that you can help resolve, and in so doing, they’ll help you out in return, or they can facilitate other work for you.  Whether or not you agree to do so is up to you.  However you choose to resolve this, at some point, you’ll be done interacting with the interloping spirit.  Proceed to the license to depart and let the spirit go.  If you have sufficient time to do so, begin the conjuration process again starting with the prayers to conjure the spirit you wanted; otherwise, if you don’t have enough time before the chosen planetary hour ends, just wrap up and try again at another time.

It has also happened on at least one occasion I’m aware of that the spirit you got is related, connected, or commissioned to appear on behalf of the spirit whom you were calling.  In other words, the spirit you called didn’t show up, but sent another spirit in their stead to speak and act on their behalf.  Such a spirit would be a messenger or functionary of the one you called upon, a servant who can (usually) fulfill all the needs of the big-name spirit that you wanted.  In effect, so long as the spirit is who they say they are and passes the questions of authentication as such (obtaining their name, seal, and specific office for future reference), the ritual can proceed as expected from there, giving the license to depart to this new spirit.

This latter sort of thing happening, moreover, is probably more expected in the older Solomonic and angelic-conjuration literature, like Liber Juratus Honorii or Heptameron, given how many angels there are under each of the seven big ones for the planets, with all their angels of the air, alternate-primary angels, and the like, and the Secret Grimoire of Turiel itself gives an example of conjuring “Turiel, Coniel, or Babiel”, the messengers of Jupiter, and seeing who popped out, which just so happened to be Turiel.  Although not exactly like the situation described, it does show that, depending on your specific approach to conjuration and the sets of angels or spirits you’re working with, you may well want to focus on subordinate spirits rather than the big-named guys themselves.

When the Spirit You Get Isn’t who They Say They Are
Now we get to something actually problematic: you do the conjuration, you say the prayers, a spirit shows up, and it looks, talks, acts, and feels like what you expect.  Yet, when you proceed with the questions of authentication…something’s wrong.  They falter in their responses; their image goes blurry, distorted, or otherwise disfigured; they hesitate to reply, or give you no reply at all; the replies they give you aren’t at all what you expected, or could even reasonably expect, while still trying to keep up the overall identity of being the spirit you wanted.  It’s evident that the spirit that’s present came in wearing a mask of the spirit you wanted, and their real identity is showing through.  Now what?

Though we should try, as magicians who walk with good character and dignity and grace, to take a light-handed approach to resolve problems whenever possible, there are times when it’s necessary to use heavy-handed solutions to the problems we encounter—but, unless we have good cause to do so, it’s better to never be more forceful than necessary to resolve such a situation.  In this situation, we have a spirit who’s actively lying or deceiving you, and that’s not a great thing because, despite our consecrations and preparations and prayers we’ve made to ensure that such a spirit doesn’t present itself in our crystal, one has still made its way there.

At this point, we need to assert our authority as magicians who operate with the dignity, grace, and light of Divinity and set things back to right.  When a spirit tries to keep up a farce like this, this is where we make use of our wand as not just a representation of power but as a tool of it.  Referencing Agrippa’s method for dealing with spirits of which “you doubt of any lie” (book IV, chapter 12), take the wand and trace either a triangle (the shape of Saturn) or a pentagram (the shape of Mars) over the crystal (not necessarily directly on it, but towards it if you can’t reach it), and issue a command that the spirit be bound into the crystal and sworn to truth by the power of God (use whatever divine names you feel like, but especially both the general divine names as well as the specific ones for those two planets).  With such prayers as might be necessary pulled from other Solomonic literature, you might issue commands to impel the spirit to be truthful and honest and reveal itself in a way comely and appropriate for you; you might likewise recite prayers to God that he shine the divine, all-encompassing Light of Truth into the crystal and obliterate both all darkness and all deception that the spirit’s true form and nature be revealed unto you.  There’s no need to launch a full-out offensive against the spirit, but you do need to figure out who and what the spirit is and why they came into your crystal uninvited.

Once you’ve done so, proceed as before when you got something else you didn’t expect, but don’t be so willing or ready to treat it as an emissary of the spirit you were trying to conjure, unless it comes forward cleanly and honestly, swearing by God and upon your very wand (which you should have pointed directly and steadily at the spirit in the crystal, bounded by the triangle or pentagram you drew, this whole time) that it actually has—and that’s unlikely.  If you feel charitable or think you can put the spirit to work, that’s up to you; interact with it however you judge it best and wisest to do so.  Whenever you’re finished, whether or not you wish to actually work with the interloper, give it the license to depart and send it away.

While you could try to salvage the ritual at this point, starting over again from the prayer of conjuration of the spirit, it might be better to end the ceremony at this point with the proper closing, perform a full banishing of the temple space, sprinkle the crystal and all participants with holy water, and try again at another point in time.

When the Spirit You Get Won’t Swear Their Help to You
So we’re doing the conjuration, we say the prayers as we should, a spirit shows up, it’s behaving and appearing as we expect, it passes the four questions of authentication; so far, so good!  But when we get to the final question:

Do you swear by the blood and righteousness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you are truly NN. as you say you are and that you come to help me as I have called you?

…the spirit says “no”.  Okay, well then.  Well, let’s try something different.

Note that I’ve changed this question from the original final question of authentication from DSIC, which went almost identically:

Wilt thou swear by the blood and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou art truly NN.?

In other words, the original DSIC question only served to make the spirit swear that they were who they said they were; my version makes them swear that they are who they say they are and that they have come to help us in alignment with our goals.  I made this change specifically to correct what I felt was an oversight in DSIC that I think Fr. AC went too far with in GTSC by getting a full and formal oath sworn by the spirit that they come both honestly and helpfully.

So, let’s assume the spirit doesn’t agree to the combined identity-and-purpose oath we’re putting to them.  In this case, ask instead something that falls along the lines of the original DSIC oath (updated for modernity):

Do you swear by the blood and righteousness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you are truly NN. as you say you are?

If the spirit says “yes” to that, then good!  We’re making progress, and we still have some sort of oath that we can rely upon them by!  In that case, they came honestly, but they didn’t come for your sake or for the purposes that you called them for.  In other words, they showed up, but it’s not because of you.  This is a case where you need to proceed carefully, and ask humbly and reverently why they have come if not to help you as you have called them.  They could be on a particular assignment, mission, or task that involves you, or that your needs that you wanted to call them for are not legitimate in their eyes or the eyes of God.  Listen, inquire, and learn from them.  Continue the conjuration under these circumstances, and when done, close out the conjuration as normal.

But let’s say that the spirit doesn’t, won’t, or can’t swear by even the simple oath of just their identity.  Just as Fr. AC says, I too have never found a legitimate spirit hesitate to swear this or otherwise affirm it, but it can happen that this spirit just…won’t.  This, above and beyond any of the other questions, is the final and ultimate test of authentication.  If they can’t or won’t swear this, then they’re not the spirit you wanted, and are a spirit that’s just exceptionally good at deceiving you.  Fall back to the previous situation on what to do when the spirit you get isn’t who they say they are.

When the Spirit Just Won’t Leave
Now we get to a fun situation.  We’re in the ritual, we’ve said the prayers, we called down the spirit, the spirit is who they said they are, they’ve sworn their identity and their assistance to us, and we’ve had a grand old time communing with them and doing whatever it is we wanted to do with them.  Now, our time has come to an end, and we give them the license to depart…but they don’t.  Like, they’re still absolutely there.  They’re still present, notably and perceptibly present, above and beyond just residual echoes of their power and presence.  They can still respond to questions and commands—just, apparently, not your wish that they leave.  And you can’t properly close the ritual until they do.

Depending on the nature of the spirit, you can take different approaches.  If it’s something cosmic, celestial, angelic, and otherwise a “good spirit”, which is what many people use DSIC for, they’re almost never going to linger so forcefully like this, but there is a chance that they could.  In this case, though you might have finished your business with them, they haven’t finished their business with you.  Talk with them, investigate why they haven’t left when invited to, figure out what unfinished business might still need to be taken care of.  Let them have the ball for a bit, and let them explain themselves and whatever they need to let you know or do.  Heed it, agree to it (if reasonable) or work something out (if unreasonable), and then, once all is said and done, and that you’ve confirmed that everything is said and done, give the license to depart again.  So long as everything is, in fact, said and done, they’re not going to stay; once they’ve gone, then you can properly close down the ritual.

But if the spirit is of a different sort—something chthonic, terrestrial, demonic, necromantic, or the like—then you can certainly try the above as well; that’s still recommended!  But maybe they just don’t wanna leave, punk.  Maybe they like it here and find your temple a cozy place to be, and everything will all be fine, so long as you don’t kick them out.  It’s fine, go ahead and close down the ritual, everything’ll be fine.  Right?  Wrong.  Remember that, as the magician, you are to be in control of your rituals and ceremonies, and when you invite spirits to stay for a bit, it’s only for a bit, and they need to go when you ask them to.  If they don’t, then you need to make them go.

You can try a similar approach above with when the spirit you get isn’t who they say they are, drawing a triangle or pentagram upon the crystal and getting their forced agreement to leave.  You can issue commands of exorcism or banishing (the exorcism of the spirits of the air from the Heptameron, or the curse of the Lemegeton Goetia) combined with burning offensive incenses compounded of pepper, sulfur, pine, and the like to cast them out.  You could use a variant of the Bond of Solomon from the Munich Manual to force them to leave, basically constraining them anew (as you did similarly when you conjured them), except this time getting them to leave.  You could perform any number of rituals, ceremonies, or the like to get them to leave; I’ll remind you, too, dear reader, that the Headless Rite was itself originally a ritual of exorcism.

However, be careful when you pull out any sort of big gun or big stick (or even when using your wand as one), because things can get dangerous rather quickly.  For that reason, before you engage with spirits that could (or at least are more likely to) cause you problems, it’s recommended that you gain the oaths, support, induction, and blessing of the more benefic cosmic spirits (i.e. the seven planetary angels) before engaging with, say, goetic kings or princes or the like.  It’s also helpful—probably beyond literally anything and everything else—to have some sort of connection forged with your holy guardian angel, agathodaimōn, or supernatural assistant to help uplift and assist you, both in this and in all magical works.  You may also want to consider having a secondary lamen, such as the pentacle of Solomon from the Heptameron or the Secret Grimoire of Turiel, either worn separately, upon your girdle/belt/scarf, kept covered until as needed in such a rough situation, or have it drawn or affixed to the back of the lamen of the spirit you’re conjuring.  It might take more time and effort to be so prepared, but you’ll never complain if you are when you need to be.


Even though DSIC is a fairly straightforward and simple ritual of conjuration, there are a surprising number of moving parts to it, and though we don’t expect things to go wrong, things still can and do.  While we can’t account for everything that can possibly go wrong for every possible magician that uses it, we can at least note a few of the more common issues that can arise and have a set of procedures—or at least some notions or ideas—on how to either fix the conjuration or salvage it so that we don’t end up any worse than we did going into the conjuration.

At this point, there’s really not much left to talk about, but there is one topic that I know many people (including myself) would like to see discussed more.  As has been seen, DSIC is very much a product of Western Renaissance occulture, which were universally written with either pseudo-Jewish language, Christian language, or both.  But what if it weren’t?  We’ll talk about that next time.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Dechristianizing DSIC « The Digital Ambler

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

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