Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: “Thy Little Book” and Oaths of Spirits

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 talked about some more of the simpler parts of DSIC, namely the nature of the candles and the incense holder to be used for the rite. If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

Last time, we left off with a sly, snide comment about how the specific form and placement of the incense holder seems to be pretty variable, with not a lot of people seeming to stick to the exact specifications of DSIC; I noted that it’s an underutilized and underemphasized part of DSIC. But that pales in comparison to today’s topic, for which there’s no design shown in the DSIC illustration (so I don’t need to mar your eyes with that picture again), but which is given a surprisingly detailed description in the DSIC text (as far as anything in it can be considered detailed). In the ritual, at the point of having put incense in the brazier (or otherwise lit incense using whatever kind and vessel you have) and just before the conjuration proper, DSIC instructs us to do this:

…take out thy little book, which must be made about seven inches long, of pure white virgin vellum or paper, likewise pen and ink must be ready to write down the name, character, and office, likewise the seal or image of whatever spirit may appear (for this I must tell you that it does not happen that the same spirit you call will always appear, for you must try the spirit to know whether he be a pure or impure being, and this thou shalt easily know by a firm and undoubted faith in God.)

So we have “thy little book”, which is given the following specifications:

  • A book roughly 7″ tall (though no specification is given as to width or number of pages)
  • Pure white virgin (i.e. new and unused) vellum or paper

Additionally, we’re to have pen and ink ready to go at our disposal. The purpose of this book is so that we can write down the name of the spirit we’re conjuring, their character or characters (seal, sigil, etc.), their office, and “the seal or image of whatever spirit may appear”.

What DSIC is describing here is none other than a Book of Spirits, or in Latin, Liber Spirituum. This is described at length in Agrippa’s Fourth Book (book IV, chapter 9) to the point where I hesitate even quoting sections from it here, because Agrippa goes on at length about it. Though I strongly encourage you to just….read Agrippa, here’s a very brief summary of the points of what Agrippa is saying:

  • A Liber Spirituum is to be made, consecrated, and used for the conjuration of specifically evil spirits.
  • Made of pure, clean, new, unused paper (aka “virgin paper”)
  • Any pair of pages, left and right, are to be used for a single spirit
    • On the left-hand page is drawn the image (depiction, visualization, etc.) of the spirit
    • On the right-hand page is drawn the oath of the spirit that uses its name, “dignity” (office), and “place” (origin, role, function, etc.), underneath which is the seal of the spirit
    • Additional information, such as appropriate places, times, hours, planets, and the like for the spirit, should also be noted as discovered or agreed upon
  • Adorned with “Registers and Seals”, e.g. ribbon bookmarks containing glyphs representing the spirit
    • This helps the magician open up the book to any specific spirit as needed at a moment’s notice
    • This also helps prevent the book being opened up to any unwanted or undesired spirit that might harm the magician or those around them
  • This book should be considered and kept as a sacred object, lest it “lose its virtue with pollution and profanation”

If this makes it sound like something out of a movie, then you’re getting the right idea. The Liber Spirituum is essentially a magician’s own personal compendium of spirits, something far more sorcerous than a mere Book of Shadows. The book itself is essentially a rolodex of and cellphone for calling the spirits a magician has conjured, containing the contracts and oaths that he has made the spirits swear by so that they might remain loyal and truthful to the magician, with all necessary information so make future conjurations easier and swifter. Agrippa gives two ways to consecrate such a book:

  1. Whenever a new spirit is conjured for the first time to the magic circle of the magician, the spirit is to be bound into a triangle outside the circle. (This is pretty basic Solomonic stuff a la the Lemegeton Goetia.) With that spirit in the triangle, the magician calls upon the spirit to give their oath and bond to the magician, which is then recorded and consecrated in the book.
  2. Make the book the same way as specified above, but at the end of the book, write the different invocations, oaths, conjurations, bindings, and other prayers as one might use in rituals (like those in the Lemegeton Goetia, Heptameron, or other Solomonic texts) “wherewith every spirit may be bound”. This book then should then be “bound between two Tables or Lamens”, meaning that special lamens (not like the angelic lamens we discussed before, but more like the classic Solomonic lamens like the Pentagram of Solomon or Hexagram of Solomon) should be placed, engraved, or attached to the front cover and back cover, and on the inside covers as well (same or different). The spirits to be contained in the book are to be conjured with the oaths and prayers written in it to the circle “within the space of three days”. This book is then wrapped up in clean linen and buried securely (!) in the middle of the circle and covered, with the circle then being destroyed. The spirits called upon are then given license to depart. Three days later, the magician returns to that spot, makes a new circle, dig up the book, and without opening it, calling upon all those same spirits earlier called upon.

Agrippa says that the first way is preferred, since even though the second method is easier and of “much efficacy to produce every effect, except that in opening this book the spirit do not always come visible”. This suggests that the first method, though probably more laborious to conjure each and every spirit one by one separately and get their separate oaths written and sealed up in the book, gives more power and potency to the book itself.

As to how to use the book? Agrippa further continues that whenever the magician wants to work with one of the spirits with which they have an oath in their Liber Spirituum, all they need to do is open the book directly to that spirit’s entry (using the bookmark “Register”, not opening up to any other page), invoke the spirit by their oath they gave along with their name and seal, and simply go from there, giving license to depart to the spirit when you’re done with them. This effectively gives the magician a way to work more expeditiously and easier with the spirit, as once they have such an oath and bond with them, “without a Circle these Spirits may be called to appear, according to the way which is above delivered about the consecration of a book” (book IV, chapter 14).

So, what’s the purpose of the Liber Spirituum? When we work with spirits, we ask, oblige, compel, or force them to give us an oath and bond of theirs, complete with their name, office, role, appropriate times/materials/etc., and depiction, upon which we can rely to ensure their continued support and assistance at a later time. In doing so, we essentially enter into a formal relationship with the spirit, where the full formality of a complete conjuration ritual with circle and candle and incense and the like aren’t strictly necessary (unless deemed so depending on the nature of the oath to be made by the spirit and the nature of the danger of said spirit). Agrippa makes it clear that we only open the book when we need to, and then only to the select pages related to the spirit; the mere act of opening the book is a conjuration unto itself, which is why we need to use “Registers” or bookmarks to make sure we only open up to the right pages that we need and no other.

Now, of course, DSIC doesn’t really get into any of this except in the briefest of manners. It does say a bit more in the ritual text about how such a book should be used once a spirit is conjured and confirmed to be present:

Here let him swear, then write down his seal or character in thy book, and against it, his office and times to be called, through God’s name; also write down any thing he may teach thee, or any responses he may make to thy questions or interrogations, concerning life or death, arts or sciences, or any other thing…

However, DSIC leaves out all the spiritual powers of such a book that Agrippa takes pains to describe for us. As a result, many modern users of DSIC simply interpret this as little more than a notebook-like catalog of spirits, who they are and what their information is and the like, turning it into more of a record of works than a Liber Spirituum with real power and potency like what Agrippa describes. To be sure, Fr. RO doesn’t take this sort of approach at all in RWC, nor does he say anything about books or pens or ink or anything like this, though he does recommend taking notes after or during conjurations for our own recordkeeping (whether it’s in RWC, SS, his blog, or the old mailing list for RWC, I forget). For my part, I have two notebooks I use: one, which is really more of a binder than anything, holds laminated pockets for each separate lamen I use for conjuring different spirits, and the other is a spiral-bound notebook that I use to record the conversations I have with the angels, headed at the top of each entry with the name and seal of the spirit I’m conjuring, the date of the conjuration, any other information about the conjuration (Moon phase, planetary transits, weather, illness, etc.), and the details of the conjuration itself, what we discussed, and the like. I feel like this is a fairly common approach for those who write anything about their conjurations at all, just to keep a record of what was done, when, and with whom.

And then, of course, there’s Fr. AC, who dedicates a vast chunk of his GTSC chapter on the tools of DSIC to the Liber Spirituum. He goes into fantastic depth about how his process of making and consecrating one, its role in both the real practice and popular conceptions of magic, though he largely keeps to Agrippa’s design and process, even going into detail about the specific materials he used and his own experiences of using (or misusing) such a book. Going through Fr. AC’s blogs, I was able to dig up two posts in which he showed off two versions of his own Liber Spirituum, with the newer one bound in brown leather and the older one in black cloth:

Honestly, I don’t know what or even where to begin quoting Fr. AC on this, because he devotes a full eleven pages to GTSC to this topic. It’s a fascinating read, and he really goes to extreme lengths to make it abundantly clear how to make, consecrate, and use such a tool. Towards the end of GTSC, as well, he gives an example page from his own Liber Spirituum with his own selection for the oath used for the conjuration of Cassiel, the angel of Saturn, and a full account of a conjuration with the angel.

However…there’s something that really bothers me about the use of such a book with DSIC (besides the fact that it seems like a lot of work compared to similar practices, like the Heptameron, that don’t call for such a thing at all). While DSIC is literally titled “Drawing Spirits Into Crystals”, the text appears to be focused most on the conjuration of angels. Yes, it can be used for other spirits (as implied in some of the options given in the ritual text), but by and large, the ritual is focused on angelic conjuration, and indeed, this is largely the main purpose for DSIC in modern usage. If we consider this in light of what Agrippa is describing, well…Agrippa describes two kinds of conjurations, of good spirits and of evil spirits, and angels fall among the good spirits. And, in the chapters of the Fourth Book that involve such conjurations of good spirits, there is no mention at all of books, oaths, bonds, or the like. It’s only in the context of the conjuration of evil spirits are such things used or mentioned, and even Donald Tyson in his analysis of the Fourth Book agrees: “The Book of Spirits is a book used by goetic magicians to compel the obedience of evil spirits.” (He also gives a much more lucid and clear explanation of the construction, consecration, and use of the Liber Spirituum, which I also encourage those who are interested to read.)

While I’m not saying that a Liber Spirituum can’t be used for “good spirits” like angels, I do question whether it’s necessary or even encouraged to do so. By the nature of them being “good spirits”, Agrippa suggests that it’s not necessary (perhaps not even possible) to get them to swear oaths of this manner, probably because of their angelic and divine nature that transcends anything we mortal humans might make them do. It’s only when we deal with “evil spirits”, such as demons, devils, or any terrestrial, chthonic, or otherwise sublunary non-angelic spirit that we might want to use a Liber Spirituum in the sense of how Agrippa describes one. I question Fr. AC’s logic here when he uses a Liber Spirituum for angelic spirits; again, not that he can’t, but perhaps that he shouldn’t. Besides, the oath he gives for the angel Cassiel of Saturn is no more than the Heptameron conjuration for this angel, right down to the use of the final “&c.”, which I find an odd choice for such an oath.

However, backing Fr. AC up, the Magus includes an illustration of “a specimen of the Book of Spirits to be made of virgin Vellum”, which includes a depiction of the angel Cassiel complete with the Latin Heptameron conjuration, again right down to the use of the final “&c.”. So, while I find Fr. AC’s use of this approach to be odd, he is drawing precisely from the source materials itself; while I may not like it, I cannot say that he’s doing things wrong. Yet, at the same time, notice those two weird pentagram-like shapes on the illustration of Cassiel. These are the “penetrate” (“penetrans”) and “broken” (“fracta”) characters from Agripppa (book IV, chapter 4), which details the various characters of specifically evil spirits.

That the angel of Saturn might be considered an “evil spirit” is…honestly startling. Likewise, the whole illustration is plucked almost verbatim from the following chapter in Agrippa’s Fourth Book, the specific chapter on descriptions of spirits which technically all pertain to evil spirits. Putting aside the possibility that an angel of a malefic planet might be considered “evil” by nature of the planet, it seems like Barrett draws no distinction between angels (which I would presume to be “good spirits” according to Agrippa) and “evil spirits”, which kinda makes sense given how DSIC itself seems to conflate many of the aspects of Agrippa’s descriptions of conjurations of “good spirits” and those of “evil spirits”. So it could well be that DSIC is well and truly recommending us to use a Liber Spirituum for the angels in this light; this would make a lot of the confusion between Agrippa’s different methods, as well as our idea that the seven angels on the table should be put in the same ring as the four Kings, make much more sense, if it weren’t for the fact that making planetary angels (or any type of angels) into “evil spirits” still makes little to no sense to my mind.

Now, at least if you’re using DSIC for non-angelic conjuration, then yes, by all means, having a properly consecrated Liber Spirituum can be a great boon! Especially so, when you consider the plus of not necessarily having to go through a full conjuration process for spirits once you’ve already obtained their oath written in such a book. But even then, is it necessary? I would still say no. For one, DSIC doesn’t suggest any miraculous or spiritual powers to “thy little book” or that it can be used in such a way, but more importantly than that, there’s the penultimate prayer of the DSIC process, the license to depart. Note the bold section:

Thou great and mighty spirit, inasmuch as thou camest in peace and in the name of the ever blessed and righteous Trinity, so in this name thou mayest depart, and return to us when we call thee in his name to whom every knee doth bow down. Fare thee well, Michael; peace be between us, through our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Part of that license to depart is essentially a condition: “in the name of God go, and in the name of God, return to me when I call upon you again when I call on you in the name of God”. We’re essentially getting an underhanded agreement out of the spirit we’re telling to go, sending them on the way out and getting their promise in the process that we can just call on them “when we call [them] in [God’s] name” and, boom, they’ll appear. This is actually really sly when you think about it: we’re telling them to go and, if they take that option, that in doing so they’ve already signed the EULA to come back when we call on them. By virtue of the spirit leaving, they’ve already agreed to it, even if they’re already heading out the door. The dismissal and ensuing absence of the spirit has, effectively, become their signature.

Of course, what happens if the spirit doesn’t leave? Well, that’s where DSIC has nothing written about what to do, and we’d resort to the usual Solomonic literature like the Lemegeton Goetia or the Heptameron or the Bond of Solomon for exorcisms, threats, and the like, but so long as we limit ourselves to good spirits, we really shouldn’t have a problem. We can touch on this topic later when we get into the ritual process of DSIC (which…yikes, it’s been so long since having started this post series and we’re still not there?!), but for now, suffice it to say that I don’t think we need a physical object for the spirit to swear by when they can simply swear by them leaving the conjuration ritual area.

Now, there is the simple fact that DSIC is saying that we need to use a book for writing information about the spirit in. Sure! That makes total sense to me; nobody is going to argue with the benefit of taking down notes from our conjuration rituals, and admittedly, DSIC makes this book sound an awful lot like the Liber Spirituum of Agrippa, and by extension according to Fr. AC, similar books of spirits in other goetic grimoires and Solomonic literature. But it doesn’t necessitate such a book being used in that way; after all, it says “let him swear, then write down his seal…”, not “let him swear upon his seal”. After all, in the ritual text of DSIC, the “swearing” going on here is nothing more than the authentication of the spirit, that they really are who they say they are. That’s it, that’s all. DSIC, instead, says that the book should be used to “write down any thing he may teach thee, or any responses he may make to thy questions or interrogations, concerning life or death, arts or sciences, or any other thing”. It really does seem like the book for DSIC is less a Liber Spirituum and more just a Commentarium Spirituum, a notebook of records of conjurations.

In my view? You can use a proper Liber Spirituum if you want to for angelic or other “good spirits”, but I don’t consider it necessary, and depending on your cosmological and theological perspective, doing so may not even be recommended. But, if you’re going for a more goetic approach for using DSIC, then you may want to consider a proper Liber Spirituum to give you the extra edge, even though it, again, may not necessary depending on your specific goetic background and methodology.

But…well, now that I think about it, the same logic above about using goetic tools for non-goetic conjuration of angels in the sense of mixing up “evil spirit” methods with “good spirit” targets can be applied to the wand and the ring just as much to the Liber Spirituum. Remember that Agrippa doesn’t mention a wand at all in his Fourth Book, but instead the use of a sword with which one may threaten, impel, and force spirits to swear oaths or behave, which fits in well with Lemegeton- and Key of Solomon-type goetia; ditto for the ring, which is to preserve the safety and health of the magician by further reinforcing their divinely-granted authority and protection. Yet, if DSIC is focused on angelic works…then why? Just as Agrippa doesn’t reference the use of a Liber Spirituum when working with good spirits, he likewise doesn’t reference wands (or swords) or rings with them, either, simply just prayer (book IV, chapter 10), basically in a way like what the Arbatel suggests (which itself was presented in the same volume as the Fourth Book):

But in the end of these days, on the last day, you shall fast more strictly: and fasting on the day following, at the rising of the sun, you may enter into the holy place, using the ceremonies before spoken of, first by sprinkling your self, then with making a perfume, you shall sign your self with holy oil in the forehead, and anoint your eyes; using prayer in all these Consecrations. Then you shall open the holy Lamen, and pray before the altar upon your knees, as said above: and then an invocation being made to the Angels, they will appear unto you, which you desire; which you shall entertain with a benign and chaste communication, and license them to depart.

In that sense, if we’re just sticking to the seven planetary angels (or angels generally, or any entity in the “good spirit” class), then just as there’s (as I argue) no need for a Liber Spirituum, there’d be equally no need for a wand or ring, because these are more goetic tools that aren’t as suited for working with “good spirits” as they would be for “evil spirits”. There’s nothing saying you can’t use them, of course, but I feel like the argument isn’t strong enough for saying that you have to use them. If you’re going for demonic, “goetic”, or other entities in the “evil spirits” category, then yes, you should use the wand (or sword, or both) as well as the ring, but I think bringing them into angelic conjurations doesn’t actually do much.

I mean, consider: what are you, pitiful and God-reliant mortal that you are, going to do when Michael comes down in conjuration to some demand of yours and says “lol nah, fuk u“? Are you going to imperil Michael himself with your wand to step back and away from the crystal? Are you going to try binding the angel into a badly-made triangle and make him swear an oath to you that would supersede the very will of God that he embodies and exists to fulfill? Are you going to use your dinky ring of Solomon, engraved with Michael’s very own name, to protect yourself from the very same entity himself? Would that ring even do anything against him to hold him back? I would say that such an approach would be among the most laughable of circumstances if it weren’t for the horrifiyingly hubristic danger of trying to antagonize such powerfully divine and divinely powerful entities when they refuse to bow to your whims, bowing instead only to the whims of God. The approach would be different for working with the Lemegeton Goetia crowd, to be sure, but then, those wouldn’t be classed into Agrippa’s “good spirits”.

The only thing I can think of that might argue for the use of the wand and the ring in DSIC isn’t to work with and defend yourself from the spirit you’re conjuring directly, but from other spirits. After all, when engaging with the spiritual world…

…you may end up with a lot more clawing at your door than just the thing you called. That is, after all, why we trace the circle with the wand, to keep ourselves safe from malign spiritual influences, especially if we get a deceiving spirit instead of the one we called, and for the same reason why we wear the ring. But, heck, even the use of the magic circle itself isn’t called for by Agrippa for the conjuration of “good spirits” in a way that would line up with DSIC. It’s like DSIC keeps mashing up two main sources, one of which is clearly Agrippa’s Fourth Book non-Solomonic methods and the other something clearly far more explicitly and detailedly Solomonic, but DSIC doesn’t appear to be doing a great job at sorting this all out and making the mashup clean. It works as it is, to be sure, but perhaps it could work better if it were rethought and tweaked a bit.

Okay, enough on this topic. Just one more post about the design and purpose of the tools we use in DSIC, the magic circle, which will come up next, and then we can finally get into implementing some of this stuff above and beyond just talking about their roles, functions, and forms.

End of an Enchiridion

I can’t believe it’s come to this.  It’s been four years, and I cannot even, I literally cannot.  I knew this day would eventually come, as all finite things must come to an end, but I’m confused at the fact that it’s here.  It’s been so slowly coming that I never realized how fast this moment arrived, and I’m…not quite at a loss, but nonplussed all the same.

My Moleskine is full.

This isn’t just any journal, mind you, as Moleskines are hardly ever wont to be.  No, this particular journal is my εγχειριδιον, my vademecum, my Book of Shadow, my spellbook, my grimoire, my personal book of prayers and rituals and seals that I have been writing and maintaining since my first days in Fr. Rufus Opus’ courses.  The cover is worn, and certain pages have all but fallen out, and some already would have if it weren’t for the masking tape holding them in place.  Pages with exceptionally well-used prayers are tissue-soft, and others are dog-eared for quick reference so that I don’t have to flip through a chaotic mish-mash of traditions and systems.  Among pages of my best efforts at Roman and Greek script mixed with my personal shorthand, annotated with origins of each prayer and ritual, I have poured countless hours into keeping track of the words and acts I use in my work as a magician as an aide for ritual, supplementing my memory when my memory alone hasn’t caught up.

And it’s full.  Fuck.

I knew this day would eventually come, and I made plans years ago to digitize it into a more easily accessible format, first copying whatever I wanted from a source to my Moleskine, and from there into LaTeX files to be compiled into a fancy PDF which, for various reasons, I haven’t kept up with lately.  And, while that’s still a good way to go for future use (heck, maybe even dissemination to students?), I’m…not sure that’s what I want to do for myself.  Lord knows I still need to keep track of rituals, and even though this particular book is filled, I question whether a digital format or some other means is the best way to keep an enchiridion.

I’m no stranger to journal-keeping, after all, and I’ve filled a number of them over the years since my first attempts back in elementary school, ranging from the mundane goings-on between classes or meetings to the most arcane theorizing of the cosmos, and this blog is just another manifestation of that; as such, I know the paradoxical heart-wrenching elation that comes with filling a journal.  Still, even this particular one is…jarring.  I’ve carried this book with me around the country, and found myself sometimes going into a minor panic when I realize I may have left it at home.  That book has had oil, water, ash, dirt, spit, and even the occasional blood spilled on it.  That book has grown up and full and worn with me as I’ve grown as a magus.  Even though this all seems rather sentimental for a glorified notepad, and even though I’m unusually attached to such a thing, I’m still somewhat at a crossroads with how to proceed.  Do I get a new one, and retranscribe everything?  Do I go for the binder-and-printout method, so that I can more easily manage and organize the thing on the fly?  Do I just want to use a document I can edit on the fly and get an e-reader or tablet to do the same?

I need to do something, obviously.  Just because this journal is full does not mean my Work is complete, not by any sense.  There will still be prayers to practice, rituals to record, and designs I deign to copy for clarity’s sake, and I will still need somewhere to write them and keep a ready index of.  But…I can no longer do it with this book, which already has so much in it and cannot accept any more.  This is a problem that demands a solution, but…perhaps it’s best to review what I’ve learned from keeping such an artifact first.  What do I know now, after filling up a whole book with my rituals and prayers, that I wouldn’t have expected years ago?  What does such a book become and do for the magus?  Based on my own experience, how should one approach the process of writing in an enchiridion?

  1. It becomes a ritual tool in and of itself, rivaling the importance of any wand or shewstone or oil.
  2. It is a physical object made of paper and thread and cardboard and, if you’re fancy, leather.  Even with careful and delicate use, the book will rip and tear and fall apart, and so should be given all the respect due to any magical tool for as long as it is used.
  3. It gains power in its own right, not only by virtue of the words and seals and patterns inscribed within, but by the constant use and reuse in ritual, as well as by the spirits and powers it comes in contact with.
  4. It offers a way to prototype and practice a ritual without ever performing it first, by recording all words said and motions made, before ever putting them to use.
  5. It provides a useful way to learn what is important and what is not important in ritual, gauging by how little one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  6. Conversely, it provides a way to note what ought to be learned by heart, gauging by how much one needs a particular prayer or ritual.
  7. The fact that one is writing, actively putting in words, as opposed to typing gives the book a different feel and different (more) power.  Yes, the information may be the same, but the method makes the difference.
  8. With written words, one has the book indelibly and permanently made in one’s own kind of typographical image, as our handwriting is as much us as any photograph or depiction.
  9. It forms a record of one’s progress by virtue of the order and type of rituals written inside.  Even without records of ritual or proceedings of meditations, the prayers and rituals themselves show the state of the magus when they were first needed, as well as their exploration by the variety of text added over time.
  10. It is a testament to one’s activity and work as a magus, and as such is best kept private and secret lest anyone find it and, thus, find you out as a magus.
  11. Depending on your sources and your teachers, the text inside may be the last time those words are ever written, with you the last magus ever to use them.  As long as those words are around, at least in your own book, the traditions and rituals you use can stand the test of time and survive to be practiced by yet another generation.
  12. Organization from the outset, when keeping track of these things, is overrated.  When you’re still learning, the best order is chronological; by flipping through over and over to find the same things, you get used to the physical location of the text you need within the book.
  13. Presetting certain boundaries, so that this set of pages will be dedicated to conjuration rituals and that set of pages dedicated to Hellenic prayers and so forth, potentially wastes pages since you never know exactly how many or how few pages you need for a given topic, should you even get into that topic, which may not always be determined from the start.
  14. It is a finite object with a limited amount of space.  It will eventually become full, even if you keep only the most important and sacred words in it with nothing extraneous written and no space wasted.
  15. It is a tool and an aide.  It is to be used as much as it can be, so that the paper and ink inside is not wasted on idle copying, but made to work as much as you Work.
  16. When first copying things into it, you will use up a lot of space; only a year or so into my work, I had already filled up over a third of the pages, but it took me another three to fill up the other two thirds.  The rate at which you add things in will almost always decrease over time as you settle into a particular tradition and use the same rituals over and over.
  17. Not everything can be memorized.  While memory can always be improved, there are some things that one will keep forgetting without regular, almost daily use.
  18. A written text is crucial for smooth, repeatable work, so that one can read when memory can fail.  There’s a reason Catholic priests literally focus on the Missal while they perform their ritual, that they don’t slip up and jumble words or forget the order of things.
  19. What you write in the book, you write in your spirit.  The act of transcribing prayers is an important and powerful form of kinetic meditation.  For a similar reason, I find it helpful to say aloud every word that is to be said aloud in prayer or ritual (a la the tradition of soferim in Judaism), and to visualize the action when writing down instructions for actions.
  20. The art of handwriting is not doing too hot nowadays, and I don’t claim to have a good style of penmanship by any means, but it is a crucial aspect of maintaining the book.  Clear handwriting bespeaks a clear, methodical, premeditated mindset, and involves as much art as any skillful orison or profound prayer, not to mention making reading off the paper easier in dim lighting.
  21. It is useful to keep rituals and processes separate from records of using those rituals and processes.  I do not mix the two, and maintain a separate journal for keeping track of spiritual seals, conjuration conversations, and after-effects of ritual.  This is because the same ritual may work at some times and not at others through no fault of the ritual at all, and sometimes a ritual needs to be edited even though it works well-enough so that it can work better.
  22. It is useful to keep practice separate from theory.  Theory and philosophy and theology are nice to know and learn and discuss, but they do not come into play on the ground when the ritual is being done and the only thing that matters is the result.  Save space and keep the theory for another place, and focus only on what is necessary to complete the task at hand.
  23. It is useful to keep practice separate from recipes.  While oils, incenses, and the like may definitely be done in a ritual manner, the ingredients, conditions, and processes may often take up a lot of space that isn’t needed when doing the chanting or other ritual actions involved.
  24. It’s good to get a good-quality journal for this, neither poor nor great.  Something cheap and trashy is easy to fall apart and destroy, and something expensive and rare is too precious to waste a working text with errors, emendations, and errata in.  Settle for sturdiness, not for style, and save the pricey stuff for an heirloom calligraphied masterpiece that will be complete in and of itself.
  25. When there are a series of texts one may wish to transcribe, such as the Orphic Hymns or the Book of Psalms, it’s often better to get a separate text that contains those prayers as a complete set.  Transcribe only the ones you use most frequently, like Psalms 51 and 23 without the other 148 psalms.  An urge for completion is natural in many magi, for whom a perfectionist streak often runs strong, but you’ll ruin your hand with painful cramps and fill your book up faster than you need to.
  26. Be terse in the text for your instructions, and thorough in the text to be said aloud.  Only say what is absolutely necessary for instructions, as that can take up far more space than you need.  Laconic brevity is a virtue in the process of ritual, as is completion and wholeness in the prayers.  So long as you’ve written down enough to perform all steps of the ritual, you’ve written enough, and in the process allow yourself with room to grow and experiment and customize steps of the ritual.
  27. Even if you think they’re demanded of only by the bitchiest of middle-school teachers, get a bookcover or some sort of protection for your book.  You want to keep the book as intact and safe for as long as you possibly can.  Moleskines fit perfectly in a variety of leather car manual three-fold cases, as it turns out, and even includes a little loop for a pen and a pad of paper for quick notes and visions.
  28. Once you’ve started writing, do not stop until you’re done.  Do not leave something unfinished; if it’s part of a whole, write it wholly.  Do not begin writing until you know you can complete it in a single go, but if you need to write it, write it then and there.
  29. Generalize rituals when appropriate; think rubrics for ritual, not specific instances or implementations of ritual, and leave blanks and bracketed spaces for names or other things to be inserted when necessary.  Make a note when a particular prayer may be modified from its original intent or purpose.
  30. Only include tables of correspondence when absolutely necessary, such as when making a reference for how to fill in a ritual rubric.  Times when needing to use a table of correspondence in ritual are few, and usually only serve to take up space.  It’s better to commit the system of correspondence to memory, and that only what is necessary.
  31. Plan for rituals to be as modular as possible.  Build and conduct rituals using multiple prayers and acts, and record each one separately rather than writing the same invocation over and over for multiple rituals.
  32. The word enchiridion literally means “in the hand”, and vademecum “go with me”.  The book itself should be small enough to fit conveniently in a knapsack, but big enough to hold and read from comfortably.  If you use something too small, it’ll fill up too fast and will be hard to read from; if you use something too big, it’ll be hard to hold and hard to carry around.
  33. Never tear anything out of the book.  You will never make a mistake so egregious that you cannot write around it, and all rituals, even if needed just the once, will help you learn.  There will always be spare paper or media available to write on for things that cannot go in the book.  Keep the book intact as much as possible, since it’ll weaken on its own over time without any extra help from you.
  34. Get a good pen, and keep to that same type of pen when you write in the book.  Whether it’s a fountain pen or ball-point pen, you can never have too good a pen.  Carry it around with the book.  Keep it a neutral color, like black or blue, using other colors for specific purposes like corrections or particular symbols or watchwords.  And yes, it has to be a pen, one that isn’t erasable.  The point of the book is to put things in and keep track of what you practice, not to change the past and remove it.
  35. It doesn’t matter how you write in your book, so long as you can read it.  Your book is primarily for you and your eyes; everyone else takes a very, very distant second, although the day will come that someone else will need to use your book.  If you use a shorthand or type of code to write in the book, include a key somewhere hidden just in case you or someone else needs to decode it.
  36. Do not lose the book.  Do not destroy the book.  Do not get rid of the book.  Once finished or rendered to a point where it is unusable through age and wear, keep it somewhere safe, and only if you absolutely cannot keep it with you should you even begin to consider entrusting it to someone you can trust.
  37. It doesn’t matter whether your book is a journal or a sketchbook, i.e. lined or unlined.  I find lines helpful since I’ve never been able to develop a steady baseline for handwriting, and it helps with drawing out patterns and diagrams, but many people prefer an unlined paper to write on.  Go with what’s best for you.
  38. Once you start writing in a book, keep the book and keep using the book until it’s filled or you cannot use it any longer.  Just because you don’t like a ritual you wrote doesn’t mean the whole book is trash.  Just because you’ve changed traditions doesn’t mean you forget your history and past rituals.
  39. Take the book with you and read from it in as many rituals as you need to do.  You may not always need the book, especially if you’ve memorized the rituals and prayers needed, but take it with you just in case.  If nothing else, you help the book build power.

I suppose I had more thoughts on keeping and maintaining such a book than I expected.  I guess I wanted to be thorough, in a kind of “what would you tell a younger version of yourself” kind of way.

I think, at this point, I’ve decided on what I’m going to do.  I may not stick with Moleskine, but I am going to get another blank journal for myself.  I can always digitize the stuff as I need to in case I need a digital copy of my book, but…in all honesty, I can’t bring myself to care as much about that as I will about having a handwritten copy of my rituals with the ability to add in new rituals at a moment’s notice.  For me, and I speak only for myself, I will need to write by hand my enchiridion, and I will do this again, word by every painstaking word, for as many times as I need to.  I can’t say I’m looking forward to the coming weeks as I start this process again, but for me and my practice, it’s absolutely worth it.

Digital Vademecum of the Digital Ambler

Like any competent occultist, magician, sorcerer, or witch, I keep notes, and plenty of them.  I know of at least five notebooks I keep for records, results, divinations, ritual setups, and so forth, and at least as many binders to keep track of texts, lamens, and the like.  It’s efficient, in some ways; I’ve heard a term used by artists and messy officemates, “organized chaos”, that bears some resemblance to my method.  Granted that the most important of one’s rituals and notes should be committed to memory, it’s good to have a backup material copy on hand.

Among the most important of these books of mine is my personal vademecum, the Latin term for enchiridion, the Greek term for handbook.  Pagans might better know it as a Book of Shadows, but it’s the same thing: a collection of prayers, rituals, recipes, and symbols I keep track of for easy and quick reference.  Since I started the Work, I’ve gotten about a third of the way into this book (a fancy lined Moleskine journal, because I’m fancy like that), and often find new things to add every week or so from any number of sources old and new.  It’s convenient in many ways, except for one important one: there is no organization.  I just add stuff as I find it, which makes sense and is an honored tradition in magical writing, which accounts for why things like the PGM, the Munich Manual, and the like are so horribly disjointed, confusing, and utterly unsuitable for light reading.

So, I’ve recently busted out and dusted off my LaTeX skills and started transcribing everything from my material vademecum into a digital one, importing the designs, texts, prayers, and whatnot from there, this blog, and my personal library into a fancy e-book format.  LaTeX, though confusing and with a notorious learning curve, makes things very pretty and, once you get the hang of it, becomes easy to edit and manage large writing projects.  For another, I figure having a digital form of my vademecum would be a good thing, especially once I fill up my hardcopy version or if I lose it at any point.  Plus, if I ever start teaching (and some people can already read this in me,terribile cogitatu), this would be a good start for a textbook I could instruct and teach from.

Though it won’t be for a long while yet, I may decide to make this digital vademecum (eTome? GrimoireOnline?) of the Digital Ambler (Vademecum Polyphanae? Encheiridion Polyphanou?) public and published, maybe in e-book format, maybe in hardcopy through someplace like Lulu.  In some ways, it could be seen as a distilled version of the methods used and seen on this blog; in others, it’s a collection of rituals, some ancient, some modern, and some revealed directly or created and unattested anywhere else.  Since some of the material in my vademecum is taken from modern copyrighted sources, I’d probably want to figure out what I want to do about those (maybe include a references section? be original and come up with my own rituals?).  Out of curiosity, what would people’s opinions be on the matter, whether publishing such a work at all, or the interest of people picking up/downloading a copy?

Also, two notes:

  1. No, Michael, I’m not trying to emulate the name of your very handsome blog.
  2. LaTeX is a bitch to learn, yes, but learn it.  It makes typesetting both a skill and an art that anyone can use; it’s a very good freelance skill, especially if you find yourself in technical writing.  If I could get a technical writing gig employing LaTeX that would also let me work from home, I’d probably devote myself to that position and never look back.  You don’t need to be a masochist and compile TeX in the commandline like I do; there are lots of word-processor-esque fancy-schmancy GUIs that do a lot of the work for you.