I do take it as something of a badge of honor that Fr. Rufus Opus (or, to save keystrokes, of which there are many coming up, Fr. RO, and don’t worry, there are yet even more abbreviations to come here) claims that I’m one of the inheritors to his old Red Work courses, as he said recently on his Facebook page:
Sam Block is one of the few I’ve officially endorsed to carry on the Red Work series of Courses, one of my favorite people, and a presence in some of my favorite memories. Also introduced me to Hendrick’s. Good stuff.
I don’t talk a lot about the student-teacher thing, I think it’s pedantic. Literally patronizing, so yuck.
But I’ve learned so much from my so-called students over the years, and Sam is one of the ones at the top of the list of people who taught me as much or more than I ever showed them in my bumbling excitement.Talk to the man some time. You come away richer.
I don’t mean to start off this post to puff myself up or to make myself seem like some grand poobah of high mucketymuck, but to remind myself that RWC is where I really began my formal studies into Hermeticism and Renaissance-style magic specifically and the occult generally. It’s been about four years since Fr. RO stopped teaching his Red Work courses (RWC), about the same time he released his Seven Spheres (SS) book and a little before he himself got formally into Thelema and the A∴A∴. I know his coursework pretty thoroughly—I’ve gone through it a number of times over the years, taking notes and charting my own progress and seeing where I and he differ—and given my recent quasi-ministry of occult and spiritual Q-and-A through Curious Cat, I’ve had plenty of reasons recently to go back even more, just to make sure I know what I’m saying versus what Fr. RO might have been saying through me all this time, even when he and I agree.
One of the things that a good number of people have asked me, both through Curious Cat and through email and through Facebook, involves the topic of the specific tools of conjuration that Fr. RO suggests to use in SS. He developed SS as a distillation of the Green Work section of RWC, and though it definitely brought an easy-to-use easily-accessible easily-applicable form of Hermetic planetary magic to the masses…well, I have my issues with it, sometimes in terms of quality (I’ve spotted a number of outright editorial errors that should have been caught with even a modicum of proofreading), but also in terms of content. While SS serves as a distillation of RWC, I think that he distilled it way too far, and a lot of really good information that was in RWC that would have been useful to the reader of SS just wasn’t there. As a result, I’ve had to take on students and consultees who want some mentorship on the SS approach to magic, correcting some things, clarifying others, and giving my own thoughts on yet other topics.
On top of what people are asking me about his SS approach, there’s also my own recent work involving me constructing this new Hermetic devotional practice based on the four archangels and four prophets of geomancy, which is so widely-encompassing I don’t know if I can even call it “focused on geomancy” anymore. I’ve been writing and compiling and editing and adjusting prayer after prayer after prayer after prayer into something that really is My Own Thing. I’m excited about it, but it’s also a source of no small amount of consternation. What, exactly, do I want to keep from before? What do I want to keep the same? What do I want to rewrite or adjust (of the things that I know back-to-front, up, down, and seven-ways-to-Sunday) to fit more cleanly in this new mode of working and contemplating? One of those things is how I do planetary work, and what’s next on the list is planetary conjurations themselves. I could keep the same script I’ve been using for years—originally the RWC script, then updated for my own less Christian and slightly more Hermetic ways—but why not adopt and adapt that, too, in ways that actually work?
For that, I need to really dig back into the technology and techniques of that conjuration ritual, and that ritual is, of course, The Art of Drawing Spirits Into Crystals (DSIC). Many who are familiar with it either read it directly from Esoteric Archives, came by it through Fr. RO in either RWC or SS, or came by it through Fr. Ashen Chassan by means of his book Gateways Through Stone and Circle (Fr. AC and GTSC, respectively). And while it’s all fundamentally the same ritual, Fr. RO and Fr. AC have some differing approaches to the text, the former through a looser and more freewheeling style and the latter from a stricter, grimoirically accurate approach. These differences have produced no small amount of discussion and debate over the years online and in person, sometime just being aesthetic differences and sometimes getting into some really serious cosmological ones. Given that I want to update my own approach to this ritual, I figured I’d delve in a bit deeper than I otherwise might have and actually investigate what’s what instead of just sticking with the same-old same-old.
Just to warn you, this turned out to be, well…a considerably longer investigation than I anticipated. I figured I’d just write a single post and be done with it, but as these things turn out, there’s just too much to actually cover within a single reasonably-long post. There’s going to be several, put out over the next few days, and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. What I want to focus on, specifically, is to actually review the specific implements and process that DSIC instructs us to use, what’s actually being used by real magicians out there, and figure out what misses the mark, what can be legitimate alternatives according to different interpretations of the text itself, what can be reasonable alternatives, and the like, and one of the easiest things to start with is the actual tools of DSIC itself.
First up? The Table of Practice. This is the most complicated part of the whole Trithemian method of conjuration given in DSIC for a number of reasons, and there’s several ways we can interpret what DSIC says about how to construct it, so we’ll tackle this beast of a topic first before getting into the rest of the tools and method given in DSIC.
Let’s start with what I’ve got, shall we? The Table of Practice is something that Fr. RO instructed us to develop in the Black Work part of his RWC, and I made my own back in early 2011 from a simple pine placard and woodburning kit from Michaels, and even documented how I did it for posterity’s sake as well as showing others how I did it. The design matches what Fr. RO taught in RWC:
- Three concentric circles
- An equilateral triangle circumscribed by the innermost circle
- A Maltese cross, a hexagram with Hebrew letter Yod inside, and a pentagram in the corners of the triangle
- Between the outermost and middle circle, the glyphs of the seven planets and the names of each planet’s angel
- Between the middle and innermost circle, the names of the four elemental archangels
I used this table for a good number of years, before auctioning it off as part of a raffle I held one year as part of a fundraiser for St. Cyprian. By that point, however, I had already made an updated version for my own purposes, one that added another ring of names of the zodiacal angels around the outside, added the three holy names YHVH Elohim Tzabaoth in Hebrew around the triangle (based on research of back-translating the divine names from the Lemegeton Triangle of Art), and rewrote all the names in Hebrew instead of some being in Hebrew script and some being in Latin script. Treating myself, and getting used to a flexshaft and diamond-bit tips, I engraved the whole thing into a sweet score of a granite cheeseboard in excellent condition from a thrift store:
I’ve used this design for a good number of years now (since like 2013 or 2014), and I’ve gotten excellent work done by it ever since.
Now that I’ve introduced my background and my own version of the Table of Practice, let’s see what the original text says. But, first, what exactly is the original text? The text itself is begun with the title “Of the making of the Crystal and the Form of Preparation for a Vision”, from “The Magic and Philosophy of Trithemius of Spanheim; containing his Book of Secret Things, and Doctrine of Spirits”. This text appears as part IV of Francis Barret’s 1801 work The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer. Although the title page for the Trithemian section (from pages 129 through 140) says that it was “translated from a valuable Latin manuscript by Francis Barrett” and “never yet published in the English Language”, such a provenance is specious at best. “Trithemius of Spanheim” refers to Johannes Trithemius, born Johann Heidenberg, who lived from early 1462 to late 1516, a Benedictine abbot who also specialized in cryptography as well as the occult, and was mentor to the famous Henrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim, author of the “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” as well as the “Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy”, although a definite connection to the “Fourth Book” isn’t actually available, as evidence exists that it was spurious. Still, it is confirmed that Johannes Trithemius was a real person and a real occultist. However, the text we’re focusing on is…well, it doesn’t seem to appear anywhere before it appeared in the Magus. Unless Barrett had the only “valuable Latin manuscript” that contained it, I think it might be one of Barrett’s few original contributions to the occult.
So, onto the text itself. DSIC begins with the following instructions:
Procure of a lapidary good clear pellucid crystal, of the bigness of a small orange, i.e. about one inch and a half in diameter; let it be globular or round each way alike; then, when you have got this crystal, fair and clear, without any clouds or specks, get a small plate of pure gold to encompass the crystal round one half; let this be fitted on an ivory or ebony pedestal, as you may see more fully described in the drawing, [figure 1]. Let there be engraved a circle (A) round the crystal with these characters around inside the circle next the crystal:
afterwards the name “Tetragrammaton“. On the other side of the plate let there be engraven “Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael;” which are the four principal angels ruling over the Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury; but on 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…
From this description, we know we need four things:
- A small, pure, clear crystal
- A small plate of gold, engraved on one side with the three signs as above and the divine name “Tetragrammaton” and on the other with the names of the four archangels, into which the crystal must be set
- An ebony pedestal to hold the gold plate and crystal
- A table to support the pedestal, on which is engraved everything else
The plate itself has depictions of the following, along with the following captions for each of the images:
- The wand — “The Magic Wand to be used in Invocations by the Chrystal. Write or engrave on the other side ‘Ego Alpha et Omega’.”
- The two candles — “Two Holy wax Lights to be used in the Invocation by the Chrystal.”
- The pedestal for the crystal itself — “The true size and form of the Chrystal which must be sett in pure Gold, & the same names & characters as in the model here given.”
- The magic circle for the magician to stand within — “The magic Circle of a simple construction in which the operator must stand or sit when he uses the Chrystal.”
- The censer — “The Tripod on which the perfumes are put, & may be either held in the hand or sett in the earth.”
- The lamen — “The Lamen, or Holy Table of the Archangel Michael”.
Since the pedestal was brought up first in DSIC, let’s start there. Unfortunately, the depiction of the pedestal is only given from one side, showing the side of the four angels and not that of the three symbols and the name “Tetragrammaton”, and there is no image of the table itself. All we have to go on is the description given at the start of DSIC.
While we’re here, let me make a small note about the crystal. To be true to the text, it must be a spherical crystal ball. Alright, no surprises there, nothing we didn’t expect! But, according to the text, it should be “about the size of a small orange”; when you see this, don’t think of the usual navel oranges you find in supermarkets, but think of mikan or Mandarin oranges. Like, we’re talking small in the sense of it being just a large marble. Happily, Trithemius gives an actual measurement, “i.e. about one inch and a half in diameter”. This isn’t big at all; for reference, here’s an image from an Etsy listing that sells just that very size:
Fr. AC says a bit about how small this actually is, but considers that the smallness of the crystal makes sense for the design of what DSIC is prescribing, and further, that “one needs to be able to gaze directly at the sphere without any peripheral distractions”, something more like single-pointed fixation-style gazing. I mean, it’s not like we need a wide-screen TV to conjure and communicate with angels.
Likewise, although we might naturally jump at the conclusion that we should get quartz crystal (especially as lapidaries are mentioned, from whom we should get such a crystal), it doesn’t necessarily have to be quartz. Heck, the image of the crystal above is shows a lead crystal, and which was used across the Old World, especially to imitate precious and semiprecious gems and stones. Quartz may well be preferred, but finding pure quartz, even of that size, can be difficult. Personally, I don’t think the exact material of the scrying medium matters all that much; you could use quartz, calcite, or lead crystal, or plain glass, and probably get fine results any which way. However, I greatly prefer quartz, even if it’s not “pellucid” and “fair and clear, without any clouds or specks”; mine have plenty of inclusions in them, which I don’t think detract all that much from the final effect, but if you want to go with really clear, have at. You might do better to go with reconstituted, fused, or lab-grown quartz, in that case. Fr. AC goes on a bit about the differences between them, and how they didn’t much matter in practice, even if they do in price and aesthetic. Plus, consider that back in the day, they didn’t have such things as reconstituted or fused quartz; chances are that if you could get “pellucid”, perfectly clear quartz, you were almost necessarily bound to getting small pieces. Nowadays we can get massive crystal balls that are perfectly clear without any inclusions or mars, but back then, if you wanted something perfectly clear all the way though, you shouldn’t hold your breath for more than a marble. Getting such a perfectly clear natural crystal back then “about the size of a small orange” was probably pushing the bounds of feasibility and affordability for most people.
For that matter, though, let’s be honest: there are plenty of perfectly legitimate scrying materials and mediums one might use from the grimoiric tradition. Now, to be fair, DSIC is called “Drawing Spirits Into Crystals” for a reason, not DSIM (mirrors), DSIW (water), DSIB (bowls), or whatever. But we surely cannot deny the fact that there’s no one medium that’s truly best; heck, Fr. Acher of Theomagica uses a splendid black scrying mirror on top of his Table of Practice, and has gotten results that are just fine and splendid according to his writeups from e.g. his Arbatel operations, and Fr. AC himself describes how to prepare scrying mirrors in GTSC if one wants to go that route instead of using a crystal. You could also take a hint from Asterion’s idea of modernizing water vessel divination instruments by using basically a large clear wine glass full of water, which would simulate the optics of crystal rather nicely and at an excellent affordable price.
But let’s say that we do, in fact, want to go with crystal; it is, after all, a useful material. Agrippa mentions crystal (basically quartz) as being a waterish material since it’s considered “compacted of water” along with beryl and and pearl (book I, chapter 7), as well as lunary (book I, chapter 24), as well as being ruled over by the Pleiades (book I, chapter 32) and the sign Aquarius (book II, chapter 14). However, beyond that, Agrippa doesn’t much talk about the substance in his Three Books, and not at all in his Fourth Book. Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me all that much; while I don’t have any immediate sources to back this up, I feel like using crystals for divination and conjuration in this matter was a fairly late development in conjuration tech. Rather, if anything, spirits were just supposed to just show up without necessarily appearing in anything, or instead used materials like one’s fingernail, vessels, candleflames, or smoke.
Anyway, back to DSIC. The text says that the crystal should be “globular or round each way alike”, which is to say as perfect a sphere as possible. When we talk about the pedestal that supports the crystal in the next post, this makes sense from an aesthetic point of view, and also since spheres have a long history dating back to Hellenistic times in Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy as being the most perfect shape, especially for perfect beings. And, to be fair, crystal balls have a long trope in our culture as being the method for scrying for all sorts of occultists and fortune-tellers. Personally? I don’t see much of a need that it has to be a sphere; if you’re sticking to the DSIC design, then there are good practical reasons for it to be, but if not, then I’d consider any decently- and appropriately-sized, unbroken crystal with a smooth surface would work. I have a particularly nice quartz tetrahedron I got some years ago that I’ve used quite well for conjuring and scrying, which I find geometrically appropriate for use in triangles since the tetrahedron is just the projection of the two-dimensional triangle into three-dimensional space. I show this off prominently on my Facebook page on this overdone, overwrought fancy altar photo I took a while ago:
But that’s just me. I did start off, of course, using a natural quartz sphere, and I still occasionally use it, but I like using the quartz tetrahedron when I get the chance to do so.
In the end, you can probably use whatever scrying medium you want for DSIC operations, though a crystal fits the method and design best, especially if spherical, as we’ll see next time when we talk about the pedestal and how that ties into the design of the table upon which it’s to be placed. Going forward, we’ll assume a spherical crystal ball to fit in with the rest of the DSIC design, but later down the line, we’ll talk about alternative approaches more firmly and how to finagle the whole system to accommodate such adjustments.