Proper Ritual Terminology

Recently, someone asked me about the differences between invoking, evoking, summoning, banishing, and all that jazz.  As a ceremonial magician, there’s a lot of different ritual I use depending on the need that can fall under different categories, each with a different label.  Then again, much of the ritual is fluid enough to defy categories or change between them with the use of a few different words.  So, let me clarify my stance (and only mine, I dunno how much others may agree with me on this) on the difference between the following words: invocation, evocation, conjuration, summoning, exorcism, banishment.  After all, I seem to be doing so well with clarifying my use of particular words, so why not?

Let me clarify first that much of the distinction drawn between these words is strictly a modern thing.  Traditional sources and grimoires from the medieval and Renaissance eras made no distinction between invoking and evoking, and used these terms interchangeably with conjuring and exorcising.  Because humanity likes to bin and classify everything endlessly, drawing the thickest lines between the smallest groups, and because we’ve inherited a knack for classification from our Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical forefathers, we insist on making these distinctions known.  In my practice, I tend to stick to the broadest, most applicable words used, mostly because these categories are strictly artificial and not always replicable in magical practice.  Ultimately, when working with the spirits, shit either gets done or it doesn’t.  This isn’t engineering where we can always follow the same procedures to obtain the same results, because magic doesn’t work like that, more often than not.

First, let’s talk about the high-level word “conjuration“.  It comes from Latin, literally meaning “swearing together”.  In a conjuration, one makes a pact, agreement, or oath with one or more spirits (or other brand of non-physical entity, that kind of classification can be talked about in a later post).  The oath taken can be just a simple request or a trade of services (you do/give X for me, I do/give Y for you), or something more complicated such as appearing physically in the name of some higher power.  In this sense, “conjuration” is the most general term to be used for any work with spirits.  A similar term is “adjuration“, or “swearing to”, often used to force a spirit to accomplish or do something.  This is a little more forceful and heavy-handed, and is often used in some of the more traditional Catholic or Solomonic rituals to really bind a spirit to the magician’s will.

Similar to conjuration, the word “exorcism” also means “binding by oath”.  It comes from Greek through Latin, originally meaning “to cause to swear”.  Even as late as the Renaissance period, this word was used in the same way as “conjuration” to refer to any ritual where one works with a spirit under some oath, pact, or agreement.  However, as most of these rituals were historically done to get rid of spirits, “exorcism” eventually picked up the meaning of “conjuration so as to banish”.  Since a lot of ritual texts from the Renaissance use “exorcism” and “conjuration” interchangeably, I also consider “exorcism” to be a very high-level broad term though with connotations or implications of getting rid of something.

Speaking of, let’s talk about what “banishment” is.  This is probably the most agreed-upon term of the bunch, and is also the only one of the bunch that has a Germanic origin instead of a Greek or Latin one.  “Banishment” is getting rid of spirits or other entities or energies, depending on your view of magic and models thereof.  Whether this is from one’s own personal sphere or internal world, or from one’s external surroundings and a given place, “banishment” gets rid of, clears out, and bars the entry of spirits into a particular area.  Simple enough, I think, though some people would align “exorcism” to be a kind of banishment; in these cases, “banishing” refers to cleansing one’s sphere and inner world, while “exorcism” is clean an external area or person.  This is certainly a modern meaning of the words, but are fairly interchangeable.

On the other hand, we have the words “summoning“, “invocation“, and “evocation” to refer to rituals that introduce or call up spirits in a particular area.  Of them, “summoning” is the broadest, and refers to calling on any spirit for a particular need; we summon them, they’re present, and then stuff gets done either with or without a charge or pact that would be signified with “conjuration”.  After that, we have “invocation” and “evocation” as two different kinds of summoning, or as synonyms for it.  Going by etymology, the former means “call in” while the latter means “call out”.  Still, more than any other set of terms, these were never seen as different in traditional texts.  I can’t stress this enough: any distinction that might be drawn between them is (as far as I’m aware) purely a modern thing.  Even if it’s a useful distinction for some people to make in theory, it’s ultimately not that big a deal or a difference in practice.

The difference lies in the use of the prefix “in-” versus “e(x)-“.  Some people might distinguish the difference in “invoke” versus “evoke”, especially in non-magical contexts, as a “calling upon a higher power for aid” versus a “calling forth or summoning”.  In magical settings, one might invoke a god for aid but evoke a spirit for a conjuration, perhaps invoking a god to swear by.  Alternatively, one might invoke a power to buff one’s sphere out or imbue oneself with the blessings of a particular spirit, but would evoke a spirit to accomplish things external to one’s sphere and body.  However, this isn’t always the case; the Roman notion of evocation was to call on the gods of an enemy city to abandon them and come to the side of the Romans for aid, which would normally fall under the notion of invoking enemy gods.  Similarly, the old myths have various instances of people invoking the gods for aid and then having the gods appear next to them or otherwise manifest for their external aid, which would often be considered evocation.  Depending on what one expects and one’s magical background, the same ritual might work to produce internal results, external results, or some combination of the two.  As a rule of thumb, one pulls power through an invocation and pulls out spirits through evocation, but this is still a very rough rule that has a lot of exceptions.

Like I mentioned, magical ritual can produce a wide variety of results; there is no laboratory setting or control group to measure effects against, and different people may perceive different effects resulting from the same act.  The old authors and magicians didn’t see much of a difference between many of the terms, and used yet others that we’ve largely forgotten or don’t like anymore (such as “karcist” from Fr.MC’s “Crossed Keys”, or to a lesser extent “exorcist” from any number of old grimoires that have a particularly strong Christian bent).  There are two primary ways of working with spirits: having them come to you in some way or having them leave you in some way.  The specific ritual in question might accomplish either of these aims in any number of ways, depending on tradition or philosophy, but that’s pretty much it.  These categories of ritual simply don’t hold up for any but the most rigidly defined and limited of magical practices, and don’t accomplish much on their own.  I feel like this is a debate for people who study magic more than practice it, anyway.

Headless Rite

(Update 12/31/2017: Interested in more about this ritual?  Check out my more polished, fleshed-out writeup over on this page!)

I mentioned before that I’m getting into the regular practice of performing the Headless Rite (Bornless Rite, Liber Samekh, etc.) as part of my Work.  Per my genius’ instructions, I try to do this every night followed by a meditation session before my final prayers and sleep for the night.  Of course, I’m procrastinating right now by typing this up instead of actually doing it, but hey, I’m still just trying to get back on the ball from New Year’s.  Whine whine moan moan I’m a big baby, etc.

Now, the version of the HR that I perform is one that I based off reading the versions given in the PGM, Jason Miller’s “The Sorcerer’s Secrets”, Liber Samekh, and other sources here and there.  Stephen Flowers’ “Hermetic Magic” also provides a copy, along with a bit of extra materia that I myself use: a pendant inscribed with a special symbol (see below) from the PGM and HM, along with the barbarous words “ΑΩΘ ΑΒΡΑΩΘ ΒΑΣΥΜ ΙΣΑΚ ΣΑΒΑΩΘ ΙΑΩ” on the reverse.  This is based on the original PGM injunction to use a new strip of papyrus as a headband inscribed with the same, but I wanted something a little more permanent.

I asked Michael, the angel of the Sun, what he thought of the symbol, since I couldn’t find any information on it in any other resource or dictionary of symbols (gotta love those voces magicae and their crazy symbols); plus, since the HR has traditionally been marked as a Solar ritual, I figured he’d have some answers.  He said it was a powerful defensive-offensive symbol, combining the images of a shield and inner power bursting through any oncoming force.  Helpful, given that the original intent of the HR was to act as an exorcism, and powering through them might be a risky endeavor.  Crowley adapted it, so I hear, to be something like an exorcism of the self, cleaning out the body and mind and spirit and soul to make room for the HGA.

At any rate, below is my version of the HR.  I use Greek letters to represent the barbarous words, and I prefer the classical Greek pronunciation instead of the modern one, but either works, depending on your level of comfort with how you like alien sounds coming out of your face.  Whenever the text “[Rubric]” appears, it means to repeat a given statement of intent, like “Deliver N. from this demon that plagues him!” for using the HR as an exorcism, or “Deliver to me my HGA, deliver to me my Supernatural Assistant, deliver to me the spirit N. who is tasked with guiding and leading me through this and all lives!” for attaining K&CHGA.  The standard rubric from Liber Samekh works well for either situation, I’m guessing.

Knowing the rubric I want, I put on my pendant and perform my invocation.  The PGM says to face north, the direction of the immortal Northern Stars, but modern sources say to face east, the direction of the rising Sun.  Either works, much like where you perform it (physical or astral), depending on your background and inclinations.

Thee I invoke, the Headless One.
Thee, who created earth and the heavens.
Thee, who created night and day.
Thee, who created darkness and light.
Thou art OSORONNŌPHRIS*, whom no man hath ever seen.
Thou art IABAS!
Thou art IAPŌS!
Thou hast distinguished between the just and the unjust.
Thou hast made the female and the male.
Thou has revealed the seed and the fruit.
Thou hast made men to love each other and hate each other.
I am thy prophet to whom thou hast transmitted thy mysteries, the whole quintessence of Mageia.

Hear me!  I am the messenger of OSORONNŌPHRIS!
This is thy true name handed down to the prophets!

I call upon thee with an empty spirit, oh awesome and invisible god!

Holy Headless One, hear me!

He is the lord of the gods!
He is the lord of the world!
He is the one whom the winds fear!
He is the one who made all things by the command of his voice!
Lord, King, Master, Helper, empower my soul!
Εδε, εδε, αγγελος του Θεου!

At this point in the invocation, center yourself, and picture yourself existing in all moments and in all places, transcendent of and immanent throughout the whole Cosmos.

I am the Headless One with sight in the feet!
I am the mighty one who possesseth the immortal fire!
I am the Truth that hateth that evil is wrought in the world!
I am the one who maketh the lightning flash and the thunder roll!
I am the one whose sweat is the heavy rain that falls upon the earth that it might be fertile!
I am the one whose mouth is utterly aflame!
I am the one who begetteth and destroyeth!
I am the Grace of the World!

Come and follow, that every spirit, whether heavenly or ethereal, upon the earth or under the earth, on dry land or in the water, of whirling air or rushing fire, and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient unto me.


* Osoronnōphris: a Greek rendition of the Egyptian phrase “Osiris made beautiful/perfected”.  Iabas and Iapōs are supposedly Samaritan versions of the name of the divine name Iaō.  Together, these three names might be different epithets or aspects of the Deity, or another set of terms for the Father/Son/Paraclete trinity prevalent in Hermetic and Christian theology.