Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Four Kings or Four Angels?

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 right now, we’re in the middle of focusing how DSIC instructs the table and pedestal to be made.  Last time, we went over the form and design of the pedestal which supports the crystal and which stands on the table.  If you need a refresher, go read the last post!

Okay, so we have the crystal, and we’ve got the pedestal made with the engraved plate of gold that surrounds the crystal (or some variation on that, or none at all, depending on the approach you want to go with).  With that done, we can now get into the second half of the main apparatus of DSIC: the table upon which the pedestal itself sits.  What does this table look like?  We have this description:

…the table on which the crystal stands the following names, characters, &c. must be drawn in order.

First, The names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters. The names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth. Let them be all written within a double circle, with a triangle on a table; on which place the crystal on its pedestal: this being done, thy table is complete (as in the Fig. D,) and fit for the calling of the spirits…

Let’s break this down:

  • The things that are mentioned must be drawn in order.
  • The things that are mentioned must be drawn within “a double circle”.
  • The things that are mentioned are: “the names of the seven planets and the angels ruling them with their seals or characters”, and “the names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth”.
  • A triangle is also on the table, in which the pedestal is placed.

When we talk about “the four kings of the four corners of the earth”, what names are these?  Although DSIC doesn’t explicitly say, the general consensus that nobody disagrees with is that these would be Oriens in the East, Paimon (or Paymon) in the West, Egyn in the North, and Amaymon in the South.  Joseph Peterson of the very Esoteric Archives itself gives a wonderful note on this topic:

There is considerable variation in identification of the four kings of the cardinal directions. Here are a few: Agrippa, OP2.7 has (E, W, N, S): “Oriens.Paymon.Egyn.Amaymon”, however in OP3.24 he says, “Urieus, King of the East; Amaymon, King of the South; Paymon, King of the West; Egin, King of the North, which the Hebrew Doctors perhaps call more rightly thus, Samuel, Azazel, Azael, Mahazuel,” (See Cichus In Sphaeram Mundi, f. 21 apud quem: Zoroa. Fragm. O104; cf. Salom. ff. 28v-29r; sed addict. K: Reuchl. Arte 3, sig. O7r) MC has: “Bael, Moymon, Poymon, Egyn” or “Asmodel in the East, Amaymon in the South, Paymon in the West, and Aegym in the North”; “Oriens, Paymon, Egyn, and Amaymon”; or “Amodeo [sic] (king of the East), Paymon (king of the West), Egion (king of the North), and Maimon.”

That said, many people use the four archangels Michael for Fire, Raphael for Air, Gabriel for Water, and Uriel for Earth instead of the four kings (as I myself have in the past).  What gives?  Such a table design that uses the four archangels instead of the four kings is mostly credited to Fr. Rufus Opus; even though Fr. RO isn’t the only one to have done it this way, he is the one who most people attribute this design to.  As a result, there’s periodically debate about whether to use the four archangels or the four kings.

Personally, my own work has never significantly involved these spirits beyond a token chat, and even to this day, they’re in this grey area of things that I’m aware are important, but I’m not entirely sure why.  Thankfully, Magister Omega of A Journey into Ceremonial Magick posted a wonderful summary of the four kings in the grimoire tradition, and there’s plenty to show how important the four kings can be, especially for goetic magicians, but also for us as far as DSIC is concerned.  While Omega does cite GTSC and Fr. AC’s own personal view as well as UPG from the angel Metatron, he also cites the good Dr. Stephen Skinner and a number of other authors (I can spot some of Jake Stratton-Kent’s words in there, too):

The four kings are spiritual creatures (and therefore winged) but they are demon kings not angels…

The Kings cannot be approached in the same way you might approach the Archangels.  Start with the lesser demons. Threaten them with the name of their King if necessary.  Only after you have bound a few of the hierarchy, then think about the Kings.  You can use the Kings name without having previously called him (that is just the way it works). …

The Kings open the Gates, not something anyone should do unless they really know what they are doing. Their names are useful to enforce discipline on the spirits belonging to their legions. But, as Frater AC mentioned, they are not the ones you would choose to personally grant the usual run of wishes.

It’s odd to me that we would need the use of the four kings, then, if we were going to use DSIC just for angelic conjuration, but that’s just it: the way DSIC is written (and, as we’ll see later, the sources that DSIC itself builds upon and pulls from) implies that it can be used for angelic/theurgic works as well as goetic/non-angelic works.  In that case, the four kings would be recommended, because it does enforce a sort of authority upon whatever’s being conjured—unless they’re not under the authority of such spirits at all.  But, as Fr. AC said, it may not be about authority at all:

As [the archangels and angels] are the vertical, they are the horizontal.  They are the morally neutral yet powerful governors between the planes of existence.

Still, it’s not like there aren’t multiple traditions of Western magic and cosmology at play here, nor can we ignore that there are different eras and developments in those lines.  It’s simply a fact that many (not all) people haven’t worked with these four kings, needed to work with them, or even had a cosmology that required their presence or their roles in ways that Skinner or JSK or others would describe them, both now and for centuries into the past.  Plus, there are also those who have different views on the roles and nature of these four kings and their relationships to the angels; one person’s UPG is another person’s dismissed rubbish, after all.  If you work with the four kings or recognize them as important in your cosmology, great!  If not, then that’s also fine.  After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat: there’s no one way to consider the role or nature of the four kings, and no one way to do conjuration (even with DSIC, with all its extant variants).

Now, back to Fr. RO.  What does he say about his design that omits the four kings in favor of the four archangels?  He explains a bit from RWC, specifically in Lesson 6 of the Black Work class:

The Table of Practice is a symbol of the cosmos. It contains an outer circle with the names of the archangels of the spheres, and symbols of their planets. Within that is another circle, this with the names of the Four Angels* of the corners of the Earth. Within that is a triangle with a pentagram, the Star of David with a Yod, and a Maltese cross.

The outermost circle represents the Seven Heavens and the Intelligences therein. They are the governors of the spheres, and their presence helps ensure you get the spirit you’re looking for when you perform your conjuration. The Elemental Kings provide the gate to the material realm, so the spirits can influence your life materially, if necessary, but they also make sure that any spirit you call up of a terrestrial nature won’t go ballistic and eat your soul, leaving you dead by dawn.

These two circles together represent the meeting of the Heavens and the Earth in your temple space.

The triangle in the center of the circle is rather unique. Triangles are used in conjurations as the place the spirit manifests. In the Lemegeton’s Goetia, the magician stands within the center of an elaborate Magic Circle, and the Triangle is placed outside the Circle. The magician is theoretically safe from the evil of the demonic spirits he’s conjuring because the triangle constrains the spirit, and the circles provide further protection.

In The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, the source book for the Modern Angelic Grimoire, the magician sits or stands within a Magic Circle, but he’s got the Triangle of Art engraved on the Table of Manifestation inside the protective circle with him. The triangle is within another set of circles to protect him, but it’s different from most of the other approaches to conjuration I’ve seen.

I like it better with the spirit in the circle with you for purely practical purposes. It makes it easier to sit in front of the Table of Practice and do the scrying, the crystal can be right there in front of you instead of across the room.

It should be noted that in the Modern Angelic Grimoire, I adapted the Table of Practice from the original instructions. The circles and the triangle are on the Table that you use, but then you’re supposed to build a separate device to hold the crystal ball you conjure the spirits into.

Bryan Garner, also known as Fr. Ashen, has recently written a book on The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals. He created the tools as specified in the instructions, and if you want to see how it’s supposed to look, you can see pictures of what he came up with in his interpretation on his blog. He added in some stuff from his experience in traditional Solomonic Magic, but it still remains completely in harmony with the original manuscript.

http://bryanashen.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-almost-there-i-promise.html

I tell you this because the things I do, the things I teach are my interpretation, my “Kabala” or “Revelation” of how the grimoires are to be used by magicians who want to use a system that’s proven really effective to me. I encourage you to go back to the sources. In this course, I’ve provided samples and excerpts, but in support of my approach, to make clear certain points that I have found to be really important.

But I’ve filtered it the way I think it should be filtered, and I’ve had good results, but you need to go back to the sources and read them for yourself, explore them with the aid of the spirits. Invest in Tyson’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, or read them for free on www.esotericarchives.com.

When I put the Table of Practice together, I merged the thing that’s supposed to hold the crystal with the Table of Practice image to accomplish the same functionality as the original design. I didn’t have the ebony and gold to follow the instructions myself, so I made do.

It should probably be noted that this was all done after I attained Knowledge and Conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel. The modifications and adaptations I made were made based on things he had revealed to me as I was studying that and the Scale of the Number 4, and some other things that were percolating in my sphere at the same time.

So it’s not totally made up, but it’s not “by the book” either.

Regardless, it works rather well.

So I put all the symbols where they belonged on the Table of Practice. The triangle is where the spirit appears, and that’s in the center of the Circles.

* Some people say to put the names of the Elemental Kings there, Oriens, Paimon, Amaimon, and Egyn. I prefer the angels, your mileage may vary.

He goes on more at length about the specific symbolism and role of the individual symbols used in the Table of Practice according to his own design, and he sums it up at the end:

Taken altogether, the Table of Practice represents our relationship with the Seven Governors, the Four Elemental Kings, and the Process of Manifestation. It is designed to provide the place where a spirit can manifest, and to give us a shared space between the Heavens and the Earth in which we can work together to accomplish the things we have to do.

Note how he says “Four Elemental Kings” here, even though he’s using the four archangels.  This is because of his interpretation of how Agrippa describes the four angels in his Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7) as the “four Angels ruling over the corners of the world”, in contrast to the “four rulers of the Elements” (Seraph, Cherub, Tharsis, and Ariel), the “four Princes of Devils, offensive in the elements” (Samael, Azazel, Azael, and Mahazael), and “the four Princes of spirits, upon the four angles of the world” (Oriens, Paymon, Egyn, and Amaymon).  On top of them being “rulers over the corners of the world” (which does match the DSIC phrasing), he might have gotten an explicit “king” notion, I presume, due to their correspondence in the Tarot as the Kings of the four suits: the King of Wands to Michael of Fire, the King of Swords to Raphael of Air, and so forth.  It’s not a conventional or historical understanding of the four kings, sure, but it’s not a wrong interpretation, either.

That said, Fr. RO does touch on the role of the four kings of the directions.  In his Lesson 4 of the Black Work course, he says:

Then there are the Four Princes. They aren’t nearly as good as the Angels. The astute student will recognize that at least two of them show up in the Lemegeton’s Goetia as Kings or otherwise as rulers of the Demons. Paimon has a seal and a description in the grimoire, indicating he is one of the rank and file of that system, while Amaymon shows up in a description of Ga’ap, who, among other things, can teach you to consecrate the things “under Amaymon.”

But these guys are not demons, at least, not of the type that will come to you and cause you illness and sickness in order to make you suffer and call out to god for salvation. They can do that, of course, just like the angels can, but they are not specifically designed for that.

These four Princes represent the “neutral” spirits of the elements, and they are as far as close as I get to working with demons these days. They are like the worker bees of the elements, in my experience. They, and their assigned legions, are the ones that oversee the manifestation of the elemental directives of the spirits higher up in the, uhm, hierarchy.

I call on these spirits when I’m doing a banishing ritual, when I’m conjuring up some Genius Loci, or when I’m looking for some instant physical manifestations of something in particular. The last type of conjuration, for instant relief of a desire, is where things get sketchy. It’s generally a bad idea to try to conjure on the fly, but having a good relationship with these four princes can be useful.

I also want to note that Fr. RO began using this design of the Table of Practice as least as early as the start of 2007, because he gives an image of a simple form of it in a post from January 2007, though he mentions beginning to write his Modern Angelic Grimoire back in October 2006, suggesting he was likely already using it around that time.  However, more recently, Fr. RO put out another version of the Table of Practice on his own Facebook page in a post dated May 31, 2015, pretty much identical (with one exception which we’ll get into next time) except using the four kings instead of the four archangels, with the following caption:

I’m preparing to give the Seven Spheres Live course, and going through the slides, I remembered that I corrected the Table of Practice in the courses, but never bothered to say anything publicly about it. The Table of Practice I put together for the Modern Angelic Grimoire used the names of the Four angels of the corners of the world from Agrippa’s Scale of the Number Four.

At the time I put that together, I didn’t know anything about Goetia, or the terrestrial Princes, and since they weren’t called out specifically by name in the Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, and because I wasn’t sure about working with “demons” at the time, I went with the Angels. It was super effective so I didn’t think it mattered when I went on to other things, and even though I am now very comfortable working with Oriens, Amaymon, Paimon, and Egyn, I never bothered to update the graphics. 

Jake Stratton Kent mentioned it annoys him to no end to have the Angelic names on the Trithemian Table of Practice, cause it’s not technically right (even though it works fine in practice). So I promised I’d fix it in the course, and I did, but for those who haven’t seen the more accurate version, here it is.

Even by Fr. RO’s own admission, the use of the four kings is the correct set of names to use; it’s just that this version never made it into RWC or even SS due to his thinking and approach at the time.  Well, to use his exact words, it’s the “technically right” and “accurate” approach—which doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with it or that he disavows using the four angels instead of the four kings.  He probably does, but as many people who use the four angels can attest, it’s still a workable method, and so it’s not fundamentally wrong in practice even if it doesn’t agree with the DSIC instructions.

However, remember how I said that Fr. RO wasn’t the only one who used this design choice of the four angels instead of the four kings?  So too did Fr. Acher of Theomagica, as he explains in his own post on the Trithemian Table of Practice, which he developed around 2009.  He explains his own design choices, too (emphasis mine):

On first reading it was clear we needed to amend this design to fit our budgets and purpose. In the original description the whole device is made up of four elements: the crystal, the gold plate, the ivory/ebony pedestal and the table. While we were committed to staying true to the essence of the original, we had to amend the design to match our limited crafting skills as neither of us is a goldsmith nor a carpenter.

After several weeks of study we landed on a design that brought all the carvings together on a horizontal wooden table onto which the actual crystal would be placed. As we had set out to design a table each, we decided to create one fit for a crystal and the other fit for a black mirror.

The actual elements of the carvings are given as follows:

  • These 3 symbols inside a circle around the crystal:
  • The Tetragrammaton next to or around the three symbols
  • Then the names of the 4 archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael
  • On the opposite side of the table the “names, characters, etc.” (sic!) of:
    • the seven planets with their seals,
    • the ruling angels with their seals and
    • the names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth

Of course at the end of the day the whole table had to fit on our altar in the middle of the circle of art. After measuring the maximum space we could give to the table it turned out it couldn’t measure more than 13 inch (30cm) in diameter. Secondly, we knew we wanted to create the whole table from wood and carve all seals, characters and names on it – rather than just painting or drawing them on. Thus we tested carving magical seals into wood with a standard Dremel device and the finest drill applicable. This allowed us to understand the maximum amount of elements in our design that would fit onto a wooden disc of 13 inch diameter.

After these practical considerations we went back to the drawing board and came up with the following design:

We clearly took artistic freedom here and e.g. brought together the seals of the front and back of the table as well as the table and the pedestal on one single surface. We also decided to drop the names of the four kings of the corner of the earth; it would have simply congested the design we had in mind. However, we still felt confident as this version created a full magical circle around the actual crystal. This was a desired effect as the crystal would be used as the locus of manifestation and would be placed inside our circle of art on the altar. Thus any spirit materializing in the crystal would be bound by the circle, names and seals on the Table of Practice.

Since Fr. Acher was doing his work with the Trithemian approach in “late 2009”, this design certainly postdates Fr. RO’s own, but the way Fr. Acher writes, it sounds like he may have come up with the design independently from Fr. RO.  He might have been influenced by Fr. RO for all I know—I’m pretty sure there was at least some back-and-forth between them over the years, especially as far as some of their Arbatel work was concerned, I believe—but I’m not sure that was the case.  And, by Fr. Acher’s own admission, he took “artistic freedom” in the design of the table, but I don’t think anyone would deny that Fr. Acher has gotten good results all the same with his design choices.

Either way, we have at least ten years of people using the four archangels instead of the four kings, and it’s been shown to be another effective approach regardless of how accurate it might be according to the instructions given in DSIC or how much goetic magicians might complain about it or chide others (Al).  It’s also important to remember that neither Fr. RO nor Fr. Acher made use of a separate pedestal for the crystal; if they had, then there wouldn’t be an issue, because the four archangels would go on the pedestal and the four kings on the table.  Because they dropped the pedestal in favor of convenience and expediency, they combined the design instructions for the pedestal and table.  And, importantly, their methods still work without breaking DSIC.

Still, this topic periodically comes up in talks with various magicians, especially as source of debate, as I said earlier.  There’s a fascinating discussion from December 2014 in one of the Facebook groups I’m in that went into the topic at length.  While I won’t quote specific people (Jake Stratton-Kent, Fr. RO, Jason Miller, Fr. AC, and others got all into the discussion along with many others in a ~150-comment thread), here’s the gist of some of the points that were discussed and brought up for the general consideration of my readers:

  • Using the four archangels instead of the four kings can be an unnecessary, unfortunate, and retrogressive sanitization of the grimoire, if not outright being “wussy”.
  • Using the four kings seems to have become more popular in modern general practice after Fr. AC put out GTSC, which has a more accurate rendition of the table from DSIC, yet people were still get results with it anyway.
  • Using the archangels and not the kings can be seen to (but doesn’t necessarily) erase the option of working with elementals, emphasize celestial entities instead of chthonic ones, and result in an imbalanced spiritual approach.
  • Using the archangels may be more appropriate for working strictly or mainly with celestial and angelic entities generally.
  • Using the kings can help “ground” heavenly or celestial entities into a more worldly form, which would be better for actually “drawing spirits into crystals” and, moreover, to a concrete or visible appearance.
  • Some who have used the four archangels at one time and others the four kings at other times get good results either way, so in some ways, the choice boils down to one’s preference and comfort levels working with either set of spirits, but this may also be dependent upon one’s worldview in terms of which is more useful or whether they’re equally useful.
  • Others report that using the four archangels gets results both with conjuring angelic entities as well as demonic, but demonic results always tend to fall short of angelic ones.
  • Others report that the general effect of the ritual is different.  Using the angelic names facilitate more “astral” experiences, being in the realm of the spirit rather than the spirit being in the crystal, while using the king names facilitate a more traditional conjuration experience with the spirits appearing visibly in the crystal.  This might be due to the angels encouraging spiritual elevation and ascension through the spheres, and the kings due to their expansion and facilitation of manifestation on material planes.
  • The four kings, from a grimoiric point of view (especially in light of the fact that many grimoires say that these four entities are not to be conjured directly), provide a necessary warden and converter for various entities to be communicated with from the many levels of reality, whether physical or astral or celestial or something else.  They are, essentially, neutral powers that moderate exchanges between different planes or spheres.
  • Using the four archangels can be seen as redundant or repetitive, considering how several of them overlap with the angels of the planets, leading to the same name engraved in multiple places on the Table.
  • If you consider the circle of names from the pedestal to “overlay” that of the names on the table, then the names of the angels would “cover” those of the kings.  This suggests a binding, controlling, or thwarting influence to the angels who would be seen in command over the kings.  In that light, the presence of the four angels would suggest or imply the presence of the four kings who would be literally and metaphorically “under” them in terms of power or rulership.
  • Even if one doesn’t much care about the specific distinction between the use of angel names and king names in this specific case, it can matter when one considers their overall approach to Neoplatonic cosmology as used in Hermetic or Solomonic ritual, as well as keeping in line with the extensive history and current of tradition that’s repeated time and again in grimoiric literature.

The fact is that DSIC (almost certainly) prescribes the use of the four kings Oriens, Paimon, Egyn, and Amaymon on the table itself, but because it doesn’t explicitly give those names, there is a DSIC style that arose with Fr. RO and (maybe) Fr. Acher of interpreting this to use the four archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel for the same purpose with either exactly or approximately similar results.  Which DSIC approach you use is up to you—and it’s important to note that, for the most part, most people using either approach tend to omit the use of the pedestal and combined the inscriptions on the pedestal with that of the table, where you need the names of both the angels and the kings.  Using either set of names on the table works, but depending on your specific approach, need, and cosmology, one set might work better than the other, or it might not; there are a lot of variables and theories here, and it can be justified any which way.  However, if you want to take a strict approach to DSIC, then you’d want to use the four kings on the table and not the four angels, but having the four angels kept using the pedestal.  (Or, perhaps, placed somewhere else on the table to accommodate the lack of a pedestal.  We’ll talk about that option soon enough.)

The most common approach most people take when using DSIC-based conjuration is that they generally tend to omit the pedestal entirely and only use the table.  This means that, unless you’re going to use some sort of unusual combined approach that has both the four archangels and the four kings at the same time on the table, you’re going to miss out on one group or the other.  Depending on how you view the roles of either or both sets of entities, you might consider it a loss or you might not.  However, I think there’s one thing that we can rule out from the list of concerns raised in that discussion thread from above: that having the four archangels from the pedestal on the table itself is “redundant or repetitive”.  For one, the four archangels are not the planetary angels; Michael of the Sun is not Michael of Fire, and Uriel isn’t planetary at all (despite what DSIC might say about him being an angel of Venus).  The name might be the same, but DSIC (and a number of other texts) that a both a spirit’s name and office are significant, and the offices of these spirits are different, which effectively makes them different spirits.  If this was truly just a repetitive thing, then these four angels as a distinct, discrete set shouldn’t appear anywhere at all on either the pedestal or table, which are meant to operate together as a single overall apparatus.  But they do, which means they’re not unnecessary.

For myself?  Because I started with RWC, I’ve used the four angels approach, and that has gotten me to where I am today; I don’t think anyone can really say that it’s ineffective, because I’m quite the counterfactual anecdote that it’s not (along with Fr. RO, Fr. Acher, and many others).  That being said, if I were to start again knowing what I know now, doing what I do now, I’d probably use the four kings approach, and if or when I make myself another table, I would probably use them instead of the four angels, incorporating the four angels somewhere else, so long as both sets are present.  If nothing else, I’ll have another table to experiment with and can draw my own experiential conclusions from that, and perhaps use the two separate tables for different purposes.

So much for the kings versus angel debate.  Thing is, this is just one part of the contents of the table; we’ll get into the rest of the fun stuff next week when we talk about the planetary considerations.

When God Says No: On God and the Angels

Yes, another post from Curious Cat.  It’s honestly a great way for people to reach out to me, and it gives me a ready store of ideas for posts to write about.  (I’ve been asking for comments on my website, Facebook, and Twitter for ages for when people would like to ask questions, but people either just don’t do that or don’t generally trigger a post-writing reaction.)  Plus, according to Human Design (which my blessed sister studies and practices), I’m a so-called “manifesting generator” type, who responds well to being asked questions in order to produce and effect wonderful things.  But unlike other posts about things that come from questions on Curious Cat, this post is gonna be a little different; we’re going to discuss a common thread that ties together several different questions that were asked, all largely pertaining to angels, their role in the cosmos, how we interact with them, how we’re permitted to interact with them, and what their relationship is to God.  To give a brief summary of the questions asked and my replies to them:

  • Where do angels come from, and what are they?  God made them to carry out his will in infinitesimal slices of divine presence, made discrete and distinct to govern over specific things, entities, events, or phenomena of the cosmos.  Angels have no free will; by definition, their will is the will of God and vice versa, so that they act strictly and solely in accordance with, for, by, and to God.
  • If angels have no free will, then when we invoke or conjure an angel and commission it with a request, it can only fulfill this request if God wills it? Yes!  All the conjurations we do in the Western Hermetic and Solomonic tradition of higher entities, if we’re not taking the rather old-school approach of assuming divine power ourselves and browbeating the cosmos into complying with our (temporarily-assumed) divine will, is to supplicate God through prayer to reveal that he send his angels to us in his name for his honor and glory.  Thus, when we call on an angel, we’re essentially asking God to graciously give his permission for the angel to be sent to us, because God’s will and God’s will alone is what allows all things to happen; how much more this is the case, then, for entities whose sole purpose is to perfectly and only fulfill the will of God!
  • What sort of behavior do angels hate?  It depends on what they’re the angel of, but in general, angels don’t really “hate” because they don’t really do emotion, since they’re the embodiments of and agents for the will of God.  In that sense, angels “hate” anything that goes contrary to the will, design, aims, and goals of God—and, by extension, all that we do that goes against our True Will, which is nothing more or less than the will of God that is right and proper for us to will and accomplish in our lifetimes.
  • How can we discover our True Will if we’re unaware of it?  This is nothing short of the first half of the Great Work; the second half is fulfilling it.  And there is nothing harder or higher than to know and do what it is what we truly Will.  This is exactly the same thing as knowing the purpose God has established for us in life.
  • Why do angels hate emotion, then? Angels don’t hate emotion; they just don’t have it, or at least in any meaningful way that we might recognize as emotion.  We might perceive or interpret them to be acting emotionally, but that’s only because we ourselves are human and thus emotive creatures, while angels are utterly devoid of humanity and completely above and beyond our level, at least or especially where emotions are concerned.  Angels don’t have free will; they don’t even roll or blink their (innumerable) eyes without God willing it.
  • If an angel is being difficult, how do we complain to its manager?  If an angel is being difficult, it’s not because the angel is acting wily or being a punk for the sake of being a punk.  If an angel declines to do something, it’s because God declines to permit that thing from occurring; it’s not that the angels decide against it, but God decides against it.  That’s why, when we pray in conjuration for an angel to appear, we pray that God grant that it should happen (see above).  If something doesn’t happen, then there’s a reason for it; we either must work towards it so that we’re ready and proper for it in the eyes of God, or we must pray for the right thing to occur, whether it involves the conjuration and commissioning of an angel to do something or whether we should do something else entirely that would be better for us to do.
  • If God is unwilling to help us, would intervention from other deities from other traditions or pantheons help instead? Maybe, but if God’s decided against it, then there’s probably a good reason for that. It could be that you should look elsewhere for help, such as from another god or using another set of spirits or practices entirely to get the same thing done rather than by directly appealing to the Highest, but it could also be that you’re asking for the wrong thing entirely or that it’s not meant for you, whether now or at all. That’s where divination is crucial for magicians: it helps us plan out what we can do, but more than that, whether we should do something. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and if you shouldn’t, you should learn the reasons why. In other words, don’t go shopping around for a second opinion when you already got The One Opinion To Rule Them All. Keep to the principle of “move, or move me”.
  • But when it comes to other gods, don’t they also share power over our reality as well?  Absolutely!  But for all their greatness and grandness and power, they’re not as great or grand or powerful as the cosmocrator God behind them all. And that’s okay, because they don’t need to be, and it’s often better to work with them directly if you’re in such a tradition than to work with the behind-the-scenes all-ruling One, because they’re more accessible. But there are limits in place that even they can’t argue with, because they’re not in charge of literally everything like God is.

All this ended up with me saying this from that last question in the series, which I want to specifically quote with a special emphasis on one particular line:

God (and I use that term in a very general, very high-and-behind-the-scenes way as in Hermetic theology/philosophy), more often than not, doesn’t really established hard and fixed prohibitions so long as something fits (or is, at least, tolerated and permissible) within the grander scheme of things.  Even the biggest events and problems in our lives are less than specks of dust compared to the grandness of all creation, and accordingly, there’s not too much that really conflicts with the overall overarching design of God; there’s more than one way to skin a cat. But when God says “no” through the creation of the cosmos, there’s no angel, demon, ghost, or god that will say “yes”. If God says “no”, then you should find out why that might be the case and act accordingly, because more often than not, it’s with your own best interests in mind. Again, this is where divination is important, because it will tell you what’s going on, whether you can do something, and whether you should do something.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in all of this, because I didn’t necessarily summarize everything, and Curious Cat, for all its usefulness, isn’t great for truly nuanced discussions, what with its 3000 character limit on replies, and it’s easy to get some parts of the above misunderstood.  Plus, there are things that I’m hinting at in some of my replies that really need to be said explicitly, but just couldn’t fit reasonably in the above replies within the constraints of Curious Cat.  First, let me preface this by saying that I’m coming from a position that’s largely Hermetic and Neoplatonic and fundamentally emanationist-monist within a polytheistic framework, and I recognize that not all systems of theology, cosmology, or philosophy operate on these principles—but there are still quite a number that do.  Since I’m the one being asked these questions for my opinions, and since this is my own blog, these are my thoughts on all of this.

At the core of it all, the theme of all these questions is what role God has to play in our Work, whether or not we’re monotheistic or monist, and how we relate to God in that sense.

First, what exactly is this God we’re talking about?  Coming from a Hermetic standpoint, God is the ultimate underlying authority and entity that created and creates the whole cosmos.  Without getting into the nitty-gritty of Hermetic philosophy (I did a good-enough job of that in my 49 Days of Definitions blog series from 2013 regarding the “Definitions from Hermes Trismegistus to Asclepius”), God is both the end result of spiritual development and the ultimate source of all things that exist, don’t exist, might exist, etc.  Everything else that exists does so within God as part of God.  It may be said that God is fullness itself; instead of merely saying that all things exist within God, it can also be said that all things are God, and since God is all things, God is All.  However, since God is still one divinely simple entity, God is also One, and thus All is One.  God is the Platonic Good, the summum bonum of the philosophers, the object of highest knowledge and importance that is the forerunner and producer of all other objects.  God is also the Monad, the One, that which is alone in itself, made by itself endlessly (i.e. unmade), making all things, coming first; it is the one Source of all things, creating all things within itself yet never being made from anything besides itself, never taking away from itself into less nor multiplying itself into more.  God, further, encompasses all things; not only is God fully immanent in all of creation, but God also transcends all of creation, too.  Everything is permeated with divine essence, but everything is also intrinsically connected to each other and to God by it as well.

Where does that put us, as human beings?  All beings, human and otherwise that are not God are finite; they are not infinite, unending, immovable, or the like, since these are qualities that belong only to God.  Something that is finite has an end; it is defined, or set in by boundaries.  The maximum extent of these boundaries can be called something’s capacity, and nothing that is finite can exceed its own capacity.  Thus, everything that exists that is not God has a certain way of existing up to a certain point, whether it be in quantity or quality or good or evil; these things cannot act outside or beyond that point, because then it would exceed its own capacity.  A being’s capacity is, essentially, its destiny; a being does what its nature is designed to do, which is to fulfill its own capacity, but which it cannot exceed, because that would be going past what its destiny necessitates.  This is essentially our power: to fulfill our capacity, to fulfill our fate, and we have the choice of doing good or evil in a Hermetic sense, to fulfill our fate or to not fulfill it.  And that’s huge!  But, despite all this power we’re entitled to have, we’re not omnipotent; for example, our nature as humans is to die; we are mortal, after all, and the nature of things with material bodies is to die eventually.

What about other entities that aren’t human beings, such as angels or gods that are distinct from capital-G God?  They’re entities in their own rights, to be sure, and have their own capacities, natures, and roles to play.  But they’re still finite, no matter how much power they have.  Whatever something is according to its nature, that is going to be how it will be for that being.  These entities still have power, but they still exist as finite entities within creation; thus, they are still not God.  Rather, it’s God who establishes their natures and capacities, and it’s the role of those entities to fulfill them however they so choose.  Being higher than us and made of more subtle stuff and without the distractions and darkness of incarnate bodies, they also see more and know more than we do, and are necessarily closer to God than we are down here.  All the same, however, they cannot exceed their own capacities, either.

Now, I know that this might seem a little…appropriative, as if I’m trying to fit every possible tradition or religion into a single monist framework.  In a sense, yeah, because that’s what Hermeticism is, and it’s fundamentally one of the ways that Neoplatonic philosophy regards the hierarchy and workings of the cosmos.  To be sure, there isn’t just one Neoplatonism, and I’ll admit that my own philosophical background is amateurish, but it’s a thing I’ve seen and considered time and again and, simply, the framework works.  While I believe in God, I also believe in a plurality of many other gods; they’re all real, and often with varying powers, domains, personalities, temperaments, preferences, and the like.  And yet, they exist as part of creation just like I do, which is why approaching them works.  Yet, as a Hermeticist, I also recognize the existence (such as it is) of a God of gods, a God behind all creation, both within and without.  This is effectively the same God as that of Abraham or Muḥammad as well as of Hermēs Trismegistus, as well as Olodumare of the Yòrubá and Lukumí, as well as the God of the gnostics and the Good of the philosophers.  One can still be a monist without being a monotheist or monolatrist.  Even if you disagree with that approach to divinity and divinities (and I know of at least several who would with very good reasons!), accept the premise of it for the purposes of this post.

When it comes to angels, the word itself literally means “messenger” in Greek (ἄγγελος ángelos), and the notion of it in Abrahamic religions comes from the Hebrew מלאך mal’ākh meaning, again, “messenger”.  More than just being a bearer of the messages of God, however, angels are more like ambassadors, emissaries, or functionaries of God: they accomplish the will of God in every possible way, fulfilling it by governing, ruling, directing, and instructing different parts of the cosmos, essentially acting as the limbs of God and extensions of the will of God.  If we want to take the “messenger” idea a bit further in a way that comports with both Hermeticism and Christianity, consider the role of the Word; after all, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God”.  The “Word” of Christianity does refer to Jesus Christ, sure, but it’s also the Logos of the Hermeticists, the rational and intelligible principle that allows God (as the Nous, or Mind) to allow the cosmos to function.  In that sense, angels are messengers of the Word of God; where they bear the Word, they fulfill the will of God.

The thing about angels is that they are still only messengers; they speak the Word of God, but that is all they can speak, for that is their capacity and nature.  Angels, as extensions of the will of God, have no free will of their own; their whole purpose is to effect the will of God in the creation God made.  Whatever an angel “wants” to do is identical with what God wills; their will is inherently God’s will.  That’s why, among many other things, we can’t command an angel to do anything, because that’s equivalent to commanding God to do something, which is so far outside our finite and human capacity and capabilities that it’s laughable.  Angels cannot and do not do anything that God does not command them to do, but “command”, though a familiar concept to us coming from a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic background, isn’t really what’s happening between God and the angels; rather, God speaks his Word, and the angels bear that Word to wherever they’re going to accomplish whatever that Word is.  Angels are almost machine-like in that sense; they exist for the sole purpose of “serving God” by fulfilling the will of God.

In terms more suited to Renaissance Hermeticism, angels are “intelligences”, spiritual entities under the rule of God that guide and direct the manifestation of the forces of the cosmos.  Every force, entity, place, planet, and thing in the cosmos has its own presiding or governing angel, which can be worked with through devotional, magical, or some other kind of spiritual means.  Thus, consider Tzaphqiel, the angel of Saturn; this angel is the “governor” of that planet, and serves to establish the power, roles, functions, motions, and works of Saturn in all things in the cosmos.  Tzaphqiel, as an angel, bears the Word of God in a way that focuses on the Logos as it pertains to Saturn.  If we want to bring more Saturn power into our lives or throttle it back from our lives, we can work with Tzaphqiel to do just that.  But what if Tzaphqiel says “no”?

This is basically what a lot of these questions on Curious Cat are getting at.  Let’s step aside for a bit and consider something else for the moment: where does the nature of angels in relation to God leave us in angelic magic, whether through prayers or conjurations?  It cannot be denied that working with angels is often incredibly effective for any number of ends, and is a staple of European folk religion and folk magic as well as Hermetic, Solomonic, and other kinds of magic generally in both the West and the East.  Obviously, we don’t worship angels—that’d be idolatry, and an insult to both the angel and God—but we do venerate them and honor them, especially when thanking them or calling upon them.  But the thing is that, when we call upon them, there’s something that’s really common in much of Western magical literature that we need to carefully consider: we don’t command the angels to appear, but we ask for them to appear.  Moreover, we don’t ask the angel to appear, but we ask God that the angel appear for us.  And there are very good reasons for that.

Consider the specific conjuration prayer from Johann Trithemius’ Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals.  For clarity, let me use my own slightly reworded version, and note the specific phrasing of the prayer in the emphasized sections:

In the name of the blessed Tetragrammaton, I call upon you, you strong and mighty angel Michael, if it be the divine will of the most holy God that you take the shape that best shows your celestial nature, and appear to me visibly here in this crystal, and answer my demands in as far as I shall not transgress the bounds of divine mercy by requesting unlawful knowledge, and that you graciously show me what things are most profitable for me to know and do, to the glory and honor of his divine majesty, who lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen.

Lord, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

O Lord, by your name I have called Michael; suffer him to administer unto me, and that all things may work together for your honor and glory, and that to you be ascribed all might, majesty, and dominion.  Amen.

O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your spirit to appear unto me.  Amen.

For another example, consider the orison from book II, chapter 12 of the Book of Abramelin:

O Lord God of Mercy … Sanctify me also with the oil of thy sanctification, wherewith thou hast sanctified all thy prophets; and purify in me therewith all that appertains unto me, so that I may become worthy of the conversation of thy holy angels and of thy divine wisdom, and grant unto me the power which thou hast given unto thy prophets over all the evil spirits. Amen, amen.

Another example, the prayer from septenary II, aphorism 14 from the Arbatel of Magic:

O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator and Maker of all things visible and invisible; I, though unworthy, by thy assistance call upon thee, through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou wilt give unto me thy holy Spirit, to direct me in thy truth unto all good. Amen.

Because I earnestly desire perfectly to know the Arts of this life and such things as are necessary for us, which are so overwhelmed in darkness, and polluted with infinite humane opinions, that I of my own power can attain to no knowledge in them, unless thou teach it me. Grant me, therefore, one of thy spirits, who may teach me those things which thou would have me to know and learn, to thy praise and glory, and the profit of our neighbor…

Then again, the invocation to call forth angels from the Ars Almadel (language cleaned up to be made more readable for modern readers):

O you great, mighty, and blessed angel of God, NN. … I, the servant of the same your God entreat and humbly beseech you to come and show unto me all the things that I desire of you, so far as in office you can or are capable to perform if God permit to the same.  O you servant of Mercy, NN., I entreat you and humbly beseech you … to inform and rightly instruct me in my ignorant and depraved intellect, judgment, and understanding, and to assist me both in both this and in all other truths that the almighty Adonai, the King of Kings and the Giver of all good gifts, shall in his bountiful and fatherly Mercy be graciously pleased to bestow upon me.  Thus, o you blessed angel NN., be friendly unto me and work for me, so far as God has given you power in office to perform, whereunto I move you in power and presence to appear that I may sing with his holy angels: o mappa la man, hallelujah!  Amen.

I think the message I’m getting across is clear here.  Granted, not all grimoires in the Solomonic or Hermetic tradition use this kind of phrasing, especially when we’re dealing in a more goetic fashion where instead of pleading for God to grant his permission of such-and-such a phenomenon happening, we simply assume that God has given us his authority to make things happen, thus all the perilous threats that Solomonic magicians are known to use.  But how do we actually know or make sure we have that authority, or how do we know whether God will grant us permission?  Consider the very first line of the Key of Solomon (book I, chapter 1): “Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel, hath said that the beginning of our Key is to fear God, to adore him, to honor him with contrition of heart, to invoke him in all matters which we wish to undertake, and to operate with very great devotion, for thus God will lead us in the right way.”

Heck, I think the Key of Solomon is an excellent text to discuss here.  Julio Cesar Ody (of famous occult-lampooning fame), if I recall correctly (and I hope he corrects me if I’m wrong!) has remarked before that people treat the Key of Solomon as something to pilfer and take extracts from, rather than treating it like a full initiatory system of magic unto itself.  And when you look at it…yeah.  It really is far more than just a collection of works and talismans to be made with good prayers to be used for consecrating three dozen and more tools and pentacles.  Consider that the recitation of psalms is a huge part of they Key of Solomon; why would that be the case?  Because the Psalms are fundamentally songs that are used to praise God for his power and  beneficence, creation of the world, and miracles and favors done for mankind generally and for the sake of Israel specifically.  They can take the form of laments, thanksgiving, praisegiving, celebration, or pleas for help, and their study and recitation is common in Judaism and Christianity for imparting wisdom and cultivating grace and an elevated spirituality in accordance with the will and command of God.  Yes, the specific psalms used in the rituals of the Key of Solomon do bear relation to the things being consecrated at times, but it’s a constant practice of keeping ourselves spiritually in line with the will of God, which, when used with the actual prayers of the rituals themselves, produce an all-around feat of holy work.  Consider the first prayer from book I, chapter 5:

O Lord God, holy Father, Almighty and Merciful One who has created all things, who know all things and can do all things, from whom nothing is hidden, to whom nothing is impossible!  You who know that we do not perform these ceremonies to tempt your power, but that we may penetrate into the knowledge of hidden things.  We pray to you, by your sacred Mercy, to cause and to permit that we may arrive at this understanding of secret things of whatever nature they may be by your aid, o most holy ADONAI, whose Kingdom and Power shall have no end unto the Ages of the Ages. Amen.

Fundamentally, working divine magic is just prayer, just supplications to the Divine—to God—that certain things happen, not for the simple reason that we want it to happen, but that it be capital-G Good and ordained by God that it should happen.  That’s really all there is to it.  You might want to use so many words as all the excerpts above show, perhaps to inflame yourself with prayer to reach a more powerful or ecstatic state of working, or you might use less, if you can manage to get as much intent and focus out from fewer words.  Either way, this sort of magic is just prayer.

In this light, what happens when we pray for something and it doesn’t happen?  There could be several explanations:

  • What we’re praying for isn’t permissible within the design of God. It could be that what you’re asking for just isn’t possible, realistic, or appropriate for the world that God has established.  God could look at you and say “you’re being unreasonable here, focus on what’s realistic”.  I could pray to grow wings so that I can fly around the skies, but it’s not going to happen according to the laws of human physiology and basic physics in this world, which were designed according to the will and plan of God.  It could happen on other planes where one’s form isn’t so rigidly fixed, but it’s not going to happen here.  Likewise, if you pray for the consecration of a particular talisman for a particular end and it doesn’t end up consecrated, it’s because God sees that what you’re asking for isn’t permissible within the overall scheme of things that God has set up for us, perhaps due to the nature of what you’re asking (e.g. a talisman to shoot fireballs out of our hands) or due to the ramifications it might have (e.g. it could set off a chain reaction that would end up butting up harshly against things God already has in store for the cosmos).
  • What we’re praying for isn’t for us to receive. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, but you’re not the right person to request it or have it.  God could look at you and say “this is a good idea, but it’s not for you to work on, so ask for  something else”.  Not everyone is going to be good at everything; I’m no fighter or doctor, so while I might pray for skill in battle or for success in a lucrative medical career, these things aren’t in my life path.  Trying to force them, so long as it doesn’t go against the will of God for me, could get some success, but it could also just as easily happen that trying to go down those paths would end up with me being stymied, frustrated, and blocked at every turn.  These are signs from the cosmos itself that I’m not on the right path and that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  Instead, I should learn what my path truly entails and focus on that; it might not be easy (it rarely is!), but it will be successful in a way that would go far beyond things that I’m not meant to do.  Thus, if you’re praying for something to happen and it doesn’t happen, it’s could be because that thing isn’t for you to have in your life because it won’t help you and could easily harm you.
  • What we’re praying for is something that we can receive eventually but which we’re not ready to receive now. It could be that what you’re asking for is good, noble, and proper, and it’s proper for you to have those things, but you’re not ready to have it yet.  God could look at you and say “you’ve got the potential, but you aren’t at the right state of development for it right now, so keep working at it”.  In other words, you’re on the right track, but it’s above your station; one day, if you keep on the right track, you’ll get there.  Consider the notion of knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel; coming in contact with this divine spirit often involves an ordeal because it’s a direct link to God, and quite simply, not everyone is ready for it.  They all have their own guardian angels, to be sure, but they might not be able to truly comprehend the power and, thus, the accompanying responsibility of the conscious company of that spirit yet.  They need to refine themselves through cultivating virtue and abandoning vice until they reach a certain stage of spiritual development.  Receiving those things we pray for earlier than when it’s appropriate for us could very easily cause us and those around us harm at worst or just distractions and delays at best.

How do we know whether a prayer of ours will be granted?  This is where divination comes into play.  Divination is important for magicians of all kinds, not just because it’s a useful and profitable skill to bring in clients and to spy on people, but because it shows us the way for our own Work.  By divination, we can figure out what’s going on and what the appropriate ways are to handle it; as part of that, we can see not just whether we can do a particular ritual for a particular end, but whether we should do it (or, in the words of the good and most reverend Bishop Lainie Petersen, whether it’s wise for us to do it).  If a reading indicates that we can do something but that we should not do it, then it’s within our power to do the thing but it’s not the best use of our power to do it.  If a reading indicates that we can not do something but that we should do it, then it’s not within our power yet to do the thing and that we need to focus on cultivating that power however necessary in order to do it.  And, if a reading indicates that we can not do something and that we also should not do it, then it’s neither in our power nor our best interests to do the thing.  The answer to can-or-can’t ultimately lies with us, but the answer to should-or-shouldn’t lies with God.

We’ll pick up on this tomorrow when we get more into the notion of what “should” really means here, because this is touching on what role the will of God plays for us in our lives.

On Banishing, and an Angelic Banishing Ritual

I have to say, Curious Cat is a blast, you guys.  While I’ve been on Twitter since I graduated college in 2010, and though it’s always fun (and sometimes hilariously aggravating) to interact with people on there, there’s not a lot of room for anonymity, and you can’t always send people direct messages if you don’t follow them or if someone’s turned DMs off.  Enter Curious Cat, a platform that syncs up with Twitter and Facebook to let you ask people questions, even (and especially) anonymously.  Since I started using it, I’ve been fielding a lot more questions, ranging from the utterly surreal to bawdily sexual and everything in-between.  Given my focus on magic and the occult, a lot of people ask me questions pertaining to, well, magic and the occult, and it’s been great!  Sometimes I can’t answer due to things that just can’t or shouldn’t be discussed publicly, and other times I can’t answer because I simply don’t know enough about a given topic to give an answer, but at least I can say as much.  Sometimes, though, I might have too much of an answer, and there’s a 3000 character limit for my replies.

One of the recent common things I’ve been asked is on the topic of banishing.  Banishing as a ritual unto itself is a mainstay of many forms of Western magic, especially due to the influence of the Golden Dawn and its Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, and its Thelemic variant the Star Ruby.  Quoth Chic and Tabitha Cicero in their Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition:

This simple yet powerful cleansing ritual can be used as a protection against the impure magnetism of others.  It is also a way to rid oneself of obsessing or disturbing thoughts … we feel that the Neophyte needs to concentrate solely on the banishing form, since s/he has a tendency to light up on the astral and unknowingly attract all manner of Elementals at this early stage of the Work. It is far more important for the Neophyte to know how to banish rather than to invoke. Anyone can attract an Elemental or an energy. Getting rid of the same can be more difficult.

And that’s really what banishing’s about, isn’t it?  It’s a kind of ritual-centric cleansing that gets rid of bad spiritual stuff.  Consider the etymology of the word “banish”:

banish (v.)
late 14c., banischen, “to condemn (someone) by proclamation or edict to leave the country, to outlaw by political or judicial authority,” from banniss-, extended stem of Old French banir “announce, proclaim; levy; forbid; banish, proclaim an outlaw” (12c., Modern French bannir), from a Germanic source (perhaps Frankish *bannjan “to order or prohibit under penalty”), from Proto-Germanic *bannan (see ban (v.)). The French word might be by way of Medieval Latin bannire, also from Germanic (compare bandit). The general sense of “send or drive away, expel” is from c. 1400. Related: Banished; banishing.

To banish is, literally, to put out of a community or country by ban or civil interdict, and indicates a complete removal out of sight, perhaps to a distance. To exile is simply to cause to leave one’s place or country, and is often used reflexively: it emphasizes the idea of leaving home, while banish emphasizes rather that of being forced by some authority to leave it …. [Century Dictionary]

When we banish, we purge a person (e.g. ourselves), an object (e.g. a magical tool or supply), or a space (e.g. a temple or a bedroom) from all malevolent, harmful, or otherwise unwanted spiritual influences, whether they’re entities in their own right (e.g. obsessive spirits or spiritual leeches), spiritual energies that aren’t necessarily conscious on their own (e.g. pollution or miasma), or maleficia that’s been cast upon you (e.g. curses or hexes).  Thus, a banishing ritual is a type of spiritual cleansing or purification that gets rid of all this, or at least helps loosen it to make getting rid of it easier.

The thing about banishing rituals is just that: they’re a ritual, and more often than not, they’re explicitly and only rituals.  They use ritual gestures and words to induce this effect, often without the use of physical cleansing supplies such as holy water, incense, or the like.  Yes, many banishing rituals can incorporate these things, but it might be more helpful to think of banishing rituals as a subset of cleansing practices more generally.  Cleansing can take many forms: ablution with lustral water (e.g. khernimma), taking a spiritual bath (e.g. my Penitential Psalms Bath, bathing in a sacred spring or river, or any other number of spiritual bath mixes like the white bath or another kind of herb bath), “cleaning off” with holy water or Florida Water or eggshell chalk or some other physical substance known to have spiritually purifying properties, suffumigating with incense (or smudging, if you do that sort of thing respectfully), and the like.  Sometimes these processes have ritual involved with prayers or specific motions, and sometimes not, where you just wipe yourself down and call it a day.  In the end, though, all these practices serve fundamentally the same purpose: to get rid of bad spiritual stuff.

What we commonly see in the Western ceremonial magic scene is less of a reliance on physical aids to purification and more of a reliance on ritual approaches to the same that often don’t use physical aids, where we use ritual and ritual alone to cleanse ourselves.  This is especially notable for those who are influenced by the Golden Dawn in one form or another, where the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP, or as my godfather fondly calls it, Le Burp) has spawned any number of variations for any number of pantheons and practices.  However, that doesn’t mean that the LBRP is the only such possible banishing trick we have; there are simpler ones out there, such as Fr. Osiris’ AL-KT Banishing that I’ve incorporated into some of my own works.  Still, the idea is the same: rather than abluting, suffumigating, or other physical approaches to spiritual purification, there are also ritual approaches that don’t use physical means to achieve the same thing.

I agree fully and readily that banishing rituals are useful, because I think spiritual purification is important and necessary for our work as mages and spiritually-inclined people.  When we’re spiritually filthy, it’s harder to think clearly, harder to work well, and harder to keep ourselves hale and whole, while it also makes it easier for us to get distracted, get caught up by life’s problems, and get things messed up easily.  Though spiritual purification, we remove obstacles in our paths or make it easier for us to remove them, but that’s far from being the only benefit!  Purification also prepares us spiritually to become something better and different than we already are, because in purifying ourselves, we not only remove negative spiritual influences that have an external source, but also negative spiritual influences that come from ourselves internally.  In dealing with those, we make ourselves fit and meet to work better and more effectively, sure, but we also prepare ourselves to better accept the powers and blessings of the entities we’re working with.  Purification can be thought of as an aspect of the albedo part of alchemy, where we reduce ourselves to our core essence through removal of all impurities so that we can begin the process of integration from a fresh, clean start.  In this, purification—and thus banishing—are crucial for our work as mages.

But here’s the thing: I don’t like a ritual-focused approach to purification.  Banishing absolutely has its place, but I also claim that physical methods to purity has its place, too.  After all, for all the spiritual stuff we do as magicians and priests and diviners, we’re also incarnate human beings with physical bodies and physical problems.  If we start with the body and work spiritually, we fix the problems we have in the here and now and also loosen and dissolve the problems we have upstream, so to speak.  Not only that, but I find that there are some things that a banishing ritual doesn’t work well to resolve, but which cleansing works done physically do.  And, of course, the reverse applies, too: there are some things that cleansing works done physically don’t resolve, but which banishing rituals do.  Both are needed.  And, moreover, you can do both at the same time, working physical elements into a banishing ritual or ritualizing a cleansing done physically.  You don’t have to do one then the other separately, unless that’s what you want to do.

Personally?  I cleanse (meaning I use physical means to spiritually purify myself, as opposed to “clean”, which is just physical cleaning without a spiritual component) far more often than I banish.  There are times when I will do a proper banishing, sure, but it’s less and less common than a simple dusting with cascarilla or washing myself with holy water, which I do pretty much daily.  Let’s face it: I’m out in the world, dealing with people and their demons, wandering hither and fro through any number of clouds of miasma, and pick up more stuff when I’m out physically in the world than I do in my temple, where, through the protections I have and the safeguards I take, there’s far less that I pick up except that which I try to let in.  I’m not saying I’m impervious to spiritual stuff I attract through the aether, far from it, but I am saying that there’s a lot more that I pick up from just being out in the physical world.  For that reason, I find myself physically cleansing myself far more often than I ritually cleanse myself.  If I were less guarded and less protections up, I’d be banishing more than I am.  But, again, that isn’t to say that I don’t banish.  After all, there’s that whole “purification to readily accept better blessings and good influences” bit I mentioned above, which is one of the reasons why the LBRP is such a mainstay of Golden Dawn practices: it not only keeps you pure, but it prepares you in some pretty profound ways that are utterly necessary for progression within their system of magic.  Those who don’t work Golden Dawn magic or who aren’t in the Golden Dawn system don’t benefit from that, but they can still use it all the same for their own purification needs.

I’m not a Golden Dawn magician, and I’ve never really cared for the LBRP.  While I could use it and get what I needed out of it, it’s not really a thing that I need to do.  Instead, what I use, when I do need a ritual purification that doesn’t rely on physical methods, is something I learned from Fr. Rufus Opus.  Back in the day when he was still teaching his Red Work series of courses (which he’s long since stopped, partially because of his joining the A∴A∴ and partially because he condensed the Green Work section into his book, Seven Spheres), in the very first lesson of the first part of the courses, he introduces a banishing ritual that’s basically a heavily pared-down and modified Trithemian conjuration ritual.  Yes, Johann Trithemius’ Drawing Spirits Into Crystals, that one!  The format is basically the same with many of the same prayers, and calls on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental princes of the world to purify yourself.

I also want to make a note about just that last bit, too.  Fr. RO introduced this ritual as a way to help the beginner purify their sphere, sure, which is great, but he’s using fundamentally the same ritual to banish as we do to conjure the spirits themselves.  More than that, we’re half-conjuring the spirits that are later called upon in the Red Work series of courses to purify the sphere of the magician.  By the use of this ritual, Fr. RO is doing the same thing for his Red Work students as the Golden Dawn did for their initiates with the LBRP: we’re getting used to the fundamental ritual tech that we’ll eventually be expanding upon, and we’re getting slowly acquainted and in tune with the very same angels and spirits that we’ll be working with heavily once we get to that point.  This banishing ritual cleanses the sphere of the magician, sure, but it also prepares the magician for when they start actually working.  Fr. RO never said all this in Black Work 1, nor did he need to; those who would never progress further would still get something useful, and those who would progress further would be slowly prepared for bigger and better results later on far beyond mere purification.

Now, I’m not going to replicate Fr. RO’s original ritual.  Instead, I’m going to share my variant, which I developed slowly over my studies in his Red Work courses years back, and which better matches my own ritual practices; plus, not that there’s anything wrong with this, but the original ritual uses some Christian imagery and language that I don’t much care for anymore, and which I’ve replaced with equivalent deist, Solomonic, or Hermetic language instead.  I’ve also added some visualizations that, though they appeared naturally for me (especially once my spiritual perception became refined and which made sense later on in the course), they can be helpful for those who want them; they’re not necessary, but they can still be useful, especially for beginners.  The only two extra things that might be desired for this ritual are holy water and a wand; both are good to have, but neither are strictly necessary.  The holy water can be used as a preliminary ablution, while the wand is good for tracing a circle and conjuring the presence of the angels generally, but the holy water can be omitted if desired and the wand can be replaced by using the index finger (or the index and middle finger together, if desired) of the dominant hand.  Incense of a purifying and uplifting nature, especially frankincense, may be burned, but it’s absolutely not required for this.  This ritual may be done at any time as necessary or desired, and though it can be done anywhere, it’s best done in a quiet and safe place.

  1. Take a moment to relax and breathe deeply a few times.
  2. Stand to face the East.
  3. If desired, cleanse yourself with some holy water.  You can wipe your forehead and hands, you can make the small three Signs of the Cross on the forehead and lips and heart with the thumb, or you can make one large Sign of the Cross with the thumb and index finger and middle finger on your head, heart, and both shoulders (left to right or right to left, depending on whether you want to go with a Catholic Christian approach, or an Orthodox Christian or qabbalistic approach).
  4. Recite:

    You have cleansed me with hyssop, o Lord; you have washed me whiter than snow.

    O God, author of all good things!  Strengthen me that I may stand fast without fear through this dealing and work.  Enlighten me, oh Lord, so that my spiritual eye may be opened to see and know the works of your hand.

  5. Holding a wand in your dominant hand, or otherwise using the index finger of the dominant hand, trace a circle on the ground around you clockwise starting in the East.  While doing so, recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light, I consecrate this piece of ground for my defense, so that no evil spirit may have power to break these bounds prescribed here.  Amen.

  6. Conjure the seven planetary angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the seven heavens above I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the seven planets.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Tzaphqiel of Saturn, Tzadqiel of Jupiter, Kamael of Mars, Michael of the Sun, Haniel of Venus, Raphael of Mercury, and Gabriel of the Moon.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their planets, starting from behind you to your right and appearing counter-clockwise, with Michael directly in front of you to the East.

  7. Conjure the four elemental angels.  Recite:

    In the name of God, the Holy, the Almighty, the Light!  From the four corners of the Earth I conjure you, you strong and mighty angels of the four elements.  Come forth, here to this place and now at this time: Michael of Fire, Uriel of Earth, Raphael of Air, and Gabriel of Water.  Come forth in answer to my call; be with me here, and fill this place with your presence!

    As you do so, visualize the presence of the angels appear around you or the symbols of their elements, starting in front of you and appearing clockwise, with Michael in the East in front of you, Uriel in the South to your right, Raphael in the West behind you, and Gabriel in the North to your left.  Visualize them a little closer to you and a little below the planetary angels, who stand behind them and a little above them.

  8. Recite:

    Tzaphqiel!  Tzadqiel!  Kamael!  Michael!  Haniel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!
    Michael!  Uriel!  Raphael!  Gabriel!

    Oh you blessed angels gathered, let no spirit nor ill intent nor any scourge of man bring harm to me.  Cleanse now the sphere of this magician; cleanse my body, my soul, my spirit, and my mind of all defilement, all impurity, and all filth.  Let no evil spirit nor pollution nor leech nor any unclean thing here remain.

    Lord, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Make clean my heart within me, and take not your holy spirit from me.

    Amen.

  9. Let yourself become purified with the power and presence of the angels conjured around you.  Feel them washing you with their light and their power, permeating you and passing through you in all directions to remove from you all pollution, harm, and any and every baneful influence.  Stay in this state as long as desired.
  10. Release the spirits. Recite:

    O Lord, I thank you for the hearing of my prayer, and I thank you for having permitted your angels to appear unto me.

    O you angels of the seven planets and you angels of the four elements, I thank you for your presence.  You have come as I have called, and you have aided me as I have asked.  As you have come in peace, so now go in power.

    Amen.

  11. If desired, untrace the circle drawn on the ground with the same implement as before (wand or finger) in a counterclockwise direction, again starting in the East.  Whether or not the circle is untraced, when ready to leave, simply step out of the circle, preferably stepping forward towards the East.

With that specific arrangement of angels of the planets and elements around you, what you’re doing is essentially recreating the arrangement of angels on the Table of Practice used in the Rufus Opus-specific variant of the Trithemian conjuration ritual.  In this case, the angels present aren’t being used to set up a conjuration of the self or anything like that, but rather instead used as a kind of cosmological arrangement of powers upon the magician and their sphere.  It’s a subtle thing, but an important one; again, this ties into the subtle conditioning of banishing to prepare the magician for bigger and better things to come, as well as training the magician in the tools, arrangements, organization, and ultimate cosmology of the practices they’ll later engage in.

So, that’s it.  A simple and straightforward approach to using the planetary and elemental angels for purifying the sphere of the magician with all their powers at once in a balanced, efficient, and effective way.  Are there variants?  Of course!  For instance, the original format of the ritual called on the four elemental kings of the Earth itself: Oriens of the East, Paimon of the West, Egyn of the North, and Amaymon of the South.  If you’re comfortable working with these entities, then by all means, use them!  For those who prefer an angel-only approach, use the four archangel names instead.  There’s good logic for calling on the kings rather than the archangels, especially in that they’re a lot closer to us as incarnate beings than the angels are or ever have been, and so can be called on instead for a better and more incarnation-specific way to purge the sphere of unhelpful or harmful influences.  However, I still prefer to call on the angels for my own reasons.

In addition to calling on the seven planetary angels and the four elemental angels (or kings), you can also call on the twelve zodiacal angels as well: Malkhidael of Aries, Asmodel of Taurus, Ambriel of Gemini, Muriel of Cancer, Verkhiel of Leo, Hamaliel of Virgo, Zuriel of Libra, Barbiel of Scorpio, Adnokhiel of Sagittarius, Hanael of Capricorn, Kambriel of Aquarius, and Barkhiel of Pisces.  This, again, is a cosmological influence from my own, bigger Table of Practice that I personally use nowadays; you’d arrange them so that Malkhidael is aligned to the East, along with Michael of the Sun and Michael (or Oriens) of Fire, and go counterclockwise from there.  You’d conjure them before the planetary angels, using similar language.  However, this is overkill, in my opinion; what’s really necessary are the seven planetary angels and the four elemental archangels/kings.
And there you have it!  A clean ritual for a clean spirit.  What about you?  What sorts of banishing rituals do you use, dear reader?  Do you stick to more physical cleansings and baths, do you take a ritual-centric approach to ritual and spiritual purity, or do you use both?  What techniques, tips, or tricks might you be willing to share?  Feel free to share in the comments!