Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Candles and the Brazier

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 of the simpler parts of DSIC, namely the wand and the ring, and how other magicians have interpreted them.  If you need a refresher on what we talked about last time, go read the last post!

This is going to be a shorter post, I hope, because we’ve been going at a pretty strong pace, and it turns out there’s quite a lot to say, far more than I ever anticipated writing.  We’ll make this post a bit shorter, hopefully, and give ourselves a bit of a break.  First, a simple topic: the two candles.  The DSIC illustration shows “two Holy wax Lights used in the Invocation by the Chrystal”.  Let’s take a look at our old friend again:

A little later on in the DSIC entry of The Magus, there’s a secondary caption later on that says a bit more: “two silver or other candlesticks with the wax tapers burning”.  So we know we need two wax candles supported by silver candle holders, presumably with one placed on each side of the crystal, one to the left and one to the right.  There’s no mention of them, however, in the ritual text itself, neither of when to light them nor how to make them holy or consecrated.

Fr. RO doesn’t mention using two holy candles supported by silver candle holders in RWC, or even just a candle in general, but in SS, he says to use a lamp or tall candle, put behind and off to the side towards the left of the Table of Practice and crystal.  He describes this as:

This can either be a consecrated ritual Lamp that you use to represent the First Father in all your rites, or a candle stick that you use for the same purpose.  It can also be any tall candle.  I use white to represent the purity of the Source, but the First Father exists before any colors.

He additionally gives a short prayer to say when lighting this candle; suffice to say that it’s part of his own original methodology based on Hermetic devotions to God and not part of DSIC.

As for Fr. AC, he says in GTSC that he puts the two candles on either side of the table and pedestal, and that he uses two silver-plated candlesticks fit with tall beeswax taper candles, lit at the beginning of the ceremony.  He suggests that one might use colored candles depending on the planet (e.g. black for Saturn, green for Venus, etc.), and that they should be new and unused for the ritual (or, at least, I presume, not used for any other purpose besides angelic conjuration).  He also notes that, “although it is not necessary to do so”, one may also anoint the candles with an appropriate planetary/angelic oil, fluid condenser, or the like, as he’s experimented with and gotten good results from.  However, he doesn’t describe any formal consecration method for the candles, which I find kinda uncharacteristic of him in this case; perhaps I just didn’t come across it when going through GTSC.  At the end of GTSC, he also suggests and recommends the use of an altar candle lighter and snuffer, such as those used in formal church settings, so as to better reach them better and offer a bit more formality to the ritual.

For myself?  When I perform altar-based rituals, I use either one single candle (placed in the middle towards the end of the altar) or two (placed on either corner opposite me), supported by either wrought iron candle holders or silver ones, depending on the kind of work I’m doing; fundamentally, I don’t think the material of the candle holders themselves matters much, but that’s just me.  I typically use plain white paraffin-wax candles that, at minimum, I asperge with holy water before lighting, if not undertake a full consecration of them.  Since DSIC doesn’t offer much in the way of this, I developed my own form of candle consecration (and holy water, and this and that), based on various rites from the Key of Solomon; I recommend checking out that page for some of the things I do.  It’s simple, straightforward, and clean.  I light them at the start of every ritual I do at the altar, saying a prayer much like that found in DSIC or other texts like the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano (which is pretty similar), and snuff them with a candle snuffer at the end.  I think this is the most appropriate course, at least for myself; this fulfills the caption-based requirement that they be “holy wax Lights”, having undergone a prior consecration before the ritual itself, but since DSIC doesn’t say anything about it, well…fire is still Fire, no matter what, and Fire is holy by itself.

So much for the candles.  What about the incense holder?  The DSIC text, calling it by the generic phrase “vessel for the perfumes”, should e placed “between thy circle and the holy table on which the crystal stands”.  We’ll talk about the circle later on in a later post, but suffice to say here that we’re to stand in a magic circle (one is given “of a simple construction” in the DSIC illustration), with the crystal and pedestal on the table (or crystal on the Table of Practice, if you combine the table and pedestal into a single object) outside the circle, and the “vessel for the perfumes” is to be placed between the circle and the crystal.  An illustration of such a vessel is given in the DSIC illustration, with the caption “the Tripod on which the perfumes are put, & may be either held in the hand or sett in the earth”.  Oddly, the illustration looks nothing like a tripod to me; if anything, it looks more like a steak or torch with a sharp butt on the bottom, as if it should be thrust into the ground.  Plus, the caption is weird; it says that it may be held in the hand, while the text says to have it placed between the circle and crystal.  I suppose one could hold the vessel such that it sticks out beyond the bounds of the circle, but that seems both dangerous as well as super tiring for the magician.

Now, the vast majority of magicians, myself included, tend to just use whatever sort of incense holder we have available.  Fr. RO mentions nothing special about using a tripod or brazier or anything of the sort in RWC or SS, and simply says in SS that any kind of holder may be used, so long as the incense can be put somewhere during the ritual; in the SS version of the rite, Fr. RO places the incense burner behind and to the right of the Table of Practice and crystal, opposite the candle.  However, if we were to use a more strict interpretation of DSIC, the placement of this would be in front of the Table of Practice, between it and the magician.  That being said, I myself like having the incense burner either off to the side or behind the crystal, but that’s just me.  Admittedly, having the incense between the magician and the crystal would probably help produce visions in the crystal better in the eye of the magician or scryer, and I’ll probably take that approach in the future, but I still feel more comfortable with it behind the crystal.  We’ll talk about specific placements later on.

As for the type of incense, DSIC suggests using a flame that can burn incenses or perfumes; after all, charcoals, flames, and the like was what you had to use back in the day because such a thing as self-igniting incense (like stick or cone) just didn’t really exist as a thing.  However, since self-igniting incense is nowadays easily available, cheap, popular, and relatively safe to use, most people just use that for convenience and simplicity’s sake.  Likewise, Fr. RO says that the magician may use any kind of incense they might prefer, whether stick or loose or whatever.  For myself, it depends on what I have on hand and how much I want to do; if I feel like being simple, I’ll use my stick incense stuck in a brazier pot, and if not, I’ll use a self-igniting charcoal and drop some loose incense on top of it.

Now, all that’s the pretty common stuff that many people tend to do…and, as usual, Fr. AC takes a more strict interpretation.  In GTSC, he describes his tripod in depth, and actually gives a proper tripod shape to it instead of a weird stake shape.  After all, tripod-style braziers are ancient in many cultures, and give a pretty safe and convenient way to burn incenses or flames in a controlled way:

In order to keep a constant airflow, Fr. AC says that he uses a wire mesh to support some (presumably self-igniting) charcoals in the brazier.  He describes a bit more about his specific construction and the benefits to both stability, convenience, lightweight design, and safety, and it’s good knowledge to have.  He also describes the option of holding the vessel for incense to be “rather cumbersome and unnecessary”, opting explicitly for a “self-supporting censor [sic]”.  However, in line with DSIC, he says that the vessel should be placed between the circle and crystal.

There’s really not much more else to say.  Agrippa in his Fourth Book only says a bit about vessels for incense (book IV, chapter 10):

… You shall also have in readiness a precious perfume, and pure anointing oil; and let them be both kept consecrated. There must also a Censer be set on the head of the altar, wherein you shall kindle the holy fire, and make a perfume every day that you shall pray. …

To be fair, the rite of invoking spirits (or, at least, “good spirits”) described by Agrippa’s Fourth Book doesn’t precisely line up with DSIC, and here he says that there should be a censer placed “on the head of the altar”, which I interpret to mean the back of it opposite where we might stand (which gives a bit more credence and grounding to my own preferred approach of keeping the incense burner behind the crystal).  He also describes another use of censers later on in the same chapter:

Then a place being prepared pure and clean, and covered everywhere with white linen, on the Lords day in the new of the moon let him enter into that place, clothed with clean white garments; and let him exorcise the place, and bless it, and make a Circle therein with a sanctified coal; and let there be written in the uttermost part of the Circle the names of the Angels, and in the inner part thereof let there be written the mighty names of God: and let him place within the Circle, at the four angles of the world, the Censers for the perfumes.

Again, while we’ll get into the construction of the magic circle in a later text, here Agrippa says that there should be four censers placed at the four directions just inside the magic circle.  However, technically speaking, this is a separate ritual than the one described in the earlier passage, and is one that’s even more unrelated to DSIC.  Still, it’s informative, and as we’ll see when we talk about the magic circle, there is some bearing this has on the magic circle as used in DSIC.

What about the incenses themselves?  I mean, pretty much any and every grimoire and spellbook gives some variation of incense recipe, ranging from the simple and unoffensive to the truly arcane and noxious.  Fr. AC’s GTSC gives several sets of incense recipes for each of the seven planets, no less, all sourced from different texts, and any of them are pretty much fine.  So long as the incense would be appropriate for the planet and spirit you’re conjuring—frankincense is always acceptable for any spirit, even if only to placate and elevate them—you’d be fine.  I don’t think the specific incense matters, so long as you use it; customize it how you need or want to, or as appropriate for the specific aim of conjuration.  Because of the variability and abundance of incense recipes and choices, I don’t think there’s much worth in discussing that here in this post or even in this series of posts; just use the stuff.

That’s it for today!  Simple and easy, like I promised.  If the emphasis placed on the placement and type of censer/brazier/incense holder/vessel for perfumes seems underused and underemphasized in many modern applications of DSIC, just wait until the topic of the next post: the Liber Spirituum, the Book of Spirits!