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.

Book Review: “The Holy Guardian Angel”, ed. Michael Cecchetelli

As you may already have heard elsewhere on the blogosphere, dear reader, there’s a new book out on one of the most central and confusing parts of modern Western Hermetic magic: the Holy Guardian Angel.  Michael Cecchetelli of The Lion’s Den, author of Crossed Keys and The Book of Abrasax, recently approved the final proof of his most recent book “Holy Guardian Angel: On the Practice and Experience of the Holy Guardian Angel” and it’s on its way to the printer with Nephilim Press.  With 10 authors contributing, including amongst others Jason Miller, Conjureman Ali, Scott Michael Stenwick, Aaron Leitch, Frater Ashen Chassan, and my own mentor Frater Rufus Opus, the book is one I’ve personally been waiting for for some time now. Happily, Fr. MC himself posted a call for reviewers, and after sending the good man an email, he sent me a copy of the text for my own review!  To say that I’m honored is an understatement.

I personally made contact with my HGA back in the summer of 2012, about the time when I was consecrating my Solomonic Ring and was undergoing a large amount of time doing solar work in addition to the Headless Rite at least once daily.  I made some allusions to it before, but never formally talked about making contact with my HGA or talked at length about my HGA’s nature.  Partially, that’s because I’ve been busy with other parts of my ritual work done or finishing up other projects, and in my life that’s already pretty busy to begin with, this is no trivial matter.  I haven’t done as much introspection and inspection of my HGA that I probably should have by now, and I admit that the feeling I get between us may be strong but is also somewhat distant.  That said, since having made contact with my HGA, he has never ignored me or abandoned me; that connection, though it may be distant and small, has never been weak or forsaken.  I’ve spoken with other magicians in my circle of friends about the nature of the HGA, with one of the best/most comical ideas being that the HGA is akin to a “divine sockpuppet”, throttling back the incomprehensible majesty of the Source into a single comprehensible figure for our individual selves, something like a personal Christ figure, but this might be more properly be considered akin to an agathodaimon or similar tutelary god.  It’s tricky, and during previous blogosphere debates on the HGA, I’ve never thought myself capable of getting enmeshed in them since I don’t really know what to say.  The connection with the HGA is something intensely personal and is truly a revealed mystery, and there’s really so little that can be said about the HGA to begin with.  Those who have contact with the HGA know what it’s like and have little need to talk about it; those without contact have no means to understand what can be said.  Still, even among those who do have contact with the HGA, there’s a lot that can be said about the development, use, and work with the HGA, and that’s what Fr. MC’s new book aims to accomplish.

"Walking With the Angel" Banner

The text itself is 216 pages long, beautifully typeset and well-edited, making the reading of it a pleasure all on its own.  The book is broken down into four parts: the nature of the HGA, what comes after contact and how to work with the HGA, different schools of thought about the HGA, and a whole section devoted to some of the important blog posts made during the 2011 pan-blogosphere debates on the HGA.  Of course, MC himself is only one contributing author to the book, and that only in the final section; as he says in the introduction, he “realized no author had set about producing such a volume [on achieving K&CHGA], wherein are presented a diverse and varying cross-section of the beliefs on the subject, was because no single author could”.  It’s a complicated subject with layers upon layers of interpretation, use, and philosophy, making writing such a book on such a spirit more daunting than any other series of tomes on almost any other part of magic.

One theme that’s developed throughout the work is that K&CHGA is not just part of the Great Work, but is in fact the whole of the Great Work itself.  Taken at face-value, that’s kinda a silly statement, and doesn’t make much sense, but on deeper inspection, it becomes abundantly clear.  Many people in the Golden Dawn associate contact with the HGA to start at the grade corresponding to Tiphareth on the Tree of Life (Adeptus Minor); it’s no coincidence that (as far as I’ve heard) there are no formal grades beyond this point beyond what’s directed by one’s HGA alone, though the structure exists for them.  The entire work from this point onward is directed by one’s HGA, who really is our true teacher to understand our True Will.  After a certain point, however, even the HGA disappears when it becomes no longer useful for us, like how a raft is left behind after a journey across a river.  This is why I almost always say that I’ve made “contact” with my HGA instead of “knowledge and conversation”; I have at least partial knowledge of my HGA, sure, but developing the deep connection between us to where there is nothing external to me, becoming one with, within, and as God, the true “conversation” of the HGA, is something I’ll forever be working on.  The HGA, indeed, is a fundamental part of the Great Work, and though Crowley states that “the single supreme ritual is the attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, this is a ritual that takes a lifetime to complete.

This theme is developed through the book, that attaining contact with the HGA isn’t a one-time thing.  Even for myself, where I already have contact with my HGA, Fr. MC’s book is packed with good advice from people who have done the Work beyond what they’ve generously written about, and it inspires me with new things I’m eager to try out.  While I don’t see the need at this point to go through the Abramelin operation or redo a six-month stint of daily Headless Rites, that doesn’t mean I completely understand and can do anything with my HGA that I want to do.  You don’t just do the rituals and be done with it, receiving a full spirit guide at your beck and call; it’s the opening to a relationship where you two must work together to understand the Work to be done.  Just as the Sun rising once for one day doesn’t give all the light and energy necessary for the Earth to do everything it needs to do for its predicted 3.7 billion years, it has to rise continuously over and over again, each time going through the nocturnal underworld in order for the Earth and all its life to continue developing, building, and lasting.  Speaking from experience, I can definitely attest to this being the case, but happily this book provides means and new ideas for me to continue working with my own HGA in a big way that I wouldn’t’ve thought of.

Something that I’m totally okay with and agree with as a matter of scope is that the book does not offer much in the way of ritual.  Several authors offer some ritual rubrics and ideas to actually work with the HGA, but these are still rubrics with mostly experiences of use with them and not detailed ritual instructions themselves.  Rather, the book focuses more on “what the HGA can do for you”, and points out that there are so many ways to approach the HGA and many ways to come in contact with it, not just via the Headless Rite or the Abramelin operation.  That’s one of the goals of this book and the overall work of the HGA, too: it really doesn’t matter how you do the work here, so long as you do something.  Fr. MC himself says as much in his final entry: “there is no substitute for experiential knowledge…what is most crucial is to DO”.  The rituals offered within the book are references to those from the PGM, Abramelin, Solomonic-inspired shamanic acts, or Gnostic Ogdoatic methods to work with the HGA, which is saying quite a lot about the background the book offers that it combines all of them near seamlessly into a cohesive text.  What this book is good for is that offers the reader a glance into the experience of those few practicing magicians with actual experience with the HGA, as well as their (wildly divergent but critically useful) thoughts on the spirit.

It’s the combination of authors within “The Holy Guardian Angel” that really gives authority and authenticity to the book.  There’s a lot written about the HGA out there, but very little of it can be trusted (even more than most stuff on magic out there).  Even Fr. MC himself says as much in one of his old blog posts (reproduced in the book as a part of the section on the blogosphere debates):

…of all those who claim they have established “Knowledge and Conversation….”, 70% are lying, 15% have interpreted the aforementioned S.A. or another helpful spirit AS the HGA when in fact it is not and therefore truly believe they HAVE Knowledge and Conversation… etc…, 10% have no contact with any spirit and are under the new age proliferated misconception that contact with spirits evoked comes in the form of “clear messages, like really reeeaallly clear messages in my head” or another such abominable lie.

5%, then, are those who genuinely have made conscious, true contact and have attained what Abramelin and Abraham von Worms call “Knowledge and Conversation of The Holy Guardian Angel”. And thats a liberal number. In the majority of cases, those who are among this 5% and have ascended to this level, will know recognize one another in conversation or when reading each others writing on the subject. This is because the experience of meeting this transcendent being is absofuckinglutely changing, and there are no circumstances under which one having done so could not be utterly, permanently changed.

While I may not agree with the literal percentages of these counts, it hits home when Crowley himself says that “until the Magician has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel he is liable to endless deceptions”.  Attaining contact with the HGA is no easy thing, and while it’s no advanced thing either, it takes work and, like any real spiritual endeavor, it changes the entire game of one’s life.  It’s one of the closest parallels the modern Western mystery tradition has to a life-death-rebirth ritual seen in many other spiritual paths, and if you ask anyone who’s undergone that type of ritual, if it was done right then you and everyone around you knows for a goddamn fact it was done right.  Anything else is a lie and there is no substitute for it, either to get others to think you have the contact with this spirit or to get yourself to have contact with this spirit.  That we have such a collection of esteemed magicians who have the experience and scars to show they have the real deal with their corresponding HGAs is a treat for magicians in the modern day, especially since more and more is being written about the HGA by people who may not be anywhere as qualified to talk about it.

Whether you’ve already had contact with your HGA, or even already reached the grade of Ipsissimus in the Golden Dawn, or even are a newcomer to Hermetic magic generally, Fr. MC’s book “The Holy Guardian Angel” is going to be a wealth of information and practice for you.  It’ll give you things to look forward to if you don’t yet have contact with your HGA, and it’ll give you plenty to chew on if you already do (or think you do).  The book is one of the closest things we have to a textbook on working with the HGA especially when paired with things like the Book of Abramelin or Liber Samekh, but it’s also definitely one of the most approachable texts out there.  To see the words and minds of these magicians put together in a single volume on a complicated subject is a treat, both intellectually and spiritually, and definitely a must-have for ceremonial magicians.  Stop by Nephilim Press and place your orders soon!

Directional Correspondences Redux

A while back I wrote about some different elemental correspondences for the four directions.  Long story short, there are different systems of corresponding the elements to the four directions, with two primary methods: Agrippa’s method (Fire/East, Earth/South, Air/West, Water/North) and the Golden Dawn method (Air/East, Fire/South, Water/West, Earth/North).  However, in a recent post Aaron Leitch discusses some of the biblical origins of the Golden Dawn system while exploring other methods of correspondence, and in a reply post Alex Sumner discusses why the Golden Dawn correspondences are the way they are.  It’s all pretty interesting to read, so I suggest you do so.

Alex Sumner brings up a good point: should you change the correspondences of the elements to suit your working and placement in the world?  To quote,

In my opinion, there can only be one answer – a categoric NO. And I say so for the following reasons:

A Golden Dawn temple physically located in England or America, is not operating in England or America;

A Golden Dawn temple in (e.g.) Australia, is not operating in Australia.

Both of them, despite being on opposite sides of the world, are actually operating in one and the same place. The magical inner-workings of the Golden Dawn ceremonies take the Temple, and astrally transport it through Time and Space and across dimensions – to the Hall of the Duat, in the Egyptian otherworld.

What he says makes sense, and points to something I’ve brought up in the past: if you’re working within a set tradition, don’t change stuff to suit your needs.  If a text, grimoire, ritual, or teacher says to use a particular method, don’t change what they say to do until you’ve tried it first and, even then, only if you have an actual need to once you understand why it is the way it is.  For the Golden Dawn system of magic, the physical location of the Temple (and thus the place where the elemental correspondences come into play the most) doesn’t matter, but the astral/spiritual location of the work, which takes place Elsewhere.  That said, if you’re not working in that kind of framework, it may be better to experiment and change things before trying them out.  It honestly depends.  For instance, for an upcoming project (if ever I stop putting if off) where I plan to work with Wraeththu magic and mythos, the standard Golden Dawn/neopagan system of elements is used, but the system is also very personalized and dependent upon personal exploration.  In that case, changing the directions of the elements may not be such a bad thing, and may help in my case to tie it into my other overall magic work.

So, with all that in mind and with a slew of elemental correspondences to pick from, which one should you use?  As in all else with magic, it depends.

  • If you’re working in any kind of tradition that has already set its own rules (traditional Wicca, Golden Dawn, etc.), use the correspondences already set down in stone.  This way, you’re tapping into the current of that tradition, which links you to the overall power and history of that tradition, giving your rituals a stronger boost based on the power already built in that.  Unless you want to experiment within the bounds of that tradition, you’re breaking away from it, which deprives you of the force already built up into it.
  • If you’re working in a tradition that is place-independent and takes place in another dimension, much like the Golden Dawn where the physical location of the Temple is meaningless since the work in the Temple takes place in the Hall of the Duat in the Egyptian otherworld, then use the correspondences of that astral/otherworldly place.  Since the correspondences of that otherworldly place take precedence, using a physical set of correspondences is meaningless.
  • If you’re working in a solitary earth-based or nature-primary tradition, you might be best off using the elemental correspondences that best reflect the place where you’re currently working.  This helps plug you into the natural flow of the powers that be where you currently are, and helps sync you to the place where you are, respecting the land and nature you’re actually working with.  The standard Golden Dawn system is fine for Wicca in its original land of Great Britain, but other systems may work better should one works on the east coast of the US (e.g. Water/East, Fire/South, Earth/West, Air/North) or in the Southern Hemisphere (e.g. Air/East, Earth/South, Water/West, Fire/North).
  • If you’re working in a tradition that is celestially-based or star-primary, I’d suggest using Agrippa’s correspondences that use the elemental associations of the zodiac signs.  This implies that the elements come from the planets, which is pretty standard Hermetic doctrine, and helps link your work down here in this worldly sphere with the rest of the spheres of the cosmos, tying your elemental work into that of the planets directly.

For myself, I use that last method, since as a Hermetic magician, my primary work is with the planets and the stars, which form the basis for the elements down here on Earth.  By working with the powers of the cosmos, I can influence how these powers manifest down here, and by using the correspondence of the elements to the directions based on the zodiac, this gives me the easiest opportunity to make the transition from Up There to Down Here as smooth as possible.  However, even this might change depending on the situation; if I were doing something specifically with the spirits of the elements and the land down here limited strictly and solely to down here, I’d find out how the elements locationally and temporally work around me and use the natural power of the place of the working, buffed out with my own celestial correspondences.  Then again, if I were to tap into a more Golden Dawn type of current or if I were involved in setting up a Golden Dawn ritual by the book, I would use the Golden Dawn method because that’s what works for that specific ritual.

In a way, rules in magic are helpful, but only up to a point, and only up to their own usefulness.  Sticking to one rule at the permanent exclusion of all else can very easily deprive you of working methods or ideas to help buff out your work.  As anyone familiar with Saturnine work knows, walls can bind and block, but walls can also be knocked down and rebuilt.  Tradition, focus, scope, and need should all be taken into consideration when setting up a ritual or cosmological framework, and the combination of all of them may not be constant depending on the situation.