Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Pedestal in all its Churchy and Grimoiric Flavors

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 on the Table of Practice and how DSIC instructs the table and pedestal to be made.  Last time, we began our investigation by introducing what the Table of Practice generally is, introducing ourselves to DSIC, and talked about the overall form and need for the crystal and which stands on the table.  If you need a refresher, go read the last post!

So we have this crystal ball, and according to the instructions in DSIC:

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;

This is backed up with the accompanying illustration from DSIC:

We have this crystal, we have a design for it, and we have a description for it, too.  We need to set it in a gold plate “round one half”, but that phrase is a little odd to read and interpret.  This may be interpreted to mean either to set the crystal ball halfway through the plate, such that it sticks out equally from both sides, or that the crystal must be put into a depression on the plate such that the crystal sticks out visibly from one half and is covered by gold on the other.  I’ve only ever seen this latter interpretation discussed twice, once by I forget by whom; doing so would make the crystal look completely gold from the front, and the pure gold backing (if polished and smooth enough) would turn the crystal into a spherical (almost parabolic) mirror of sorts.  This could certainly be the case, and it’s not like mirrors aren’t used in conjuration as a scrying medium, but I’ve only seen one person provide that sort of explanation, and I’ve never seen an example of anyone actually using it.  The other place is Fr. RO himself in his Modern Angelic Grimoire which forms part of RWC, where he describes this as (emphasis in my bold text):

The Crystal used in the Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals was a clear crystal ball an inch and a half in diameter, with a special gold plate covering the bottom half of it. On the gold plate, a Star of David with a Yod in it, a pentagram, a Maltese cross, and Tetragrammaton were engraved. On the other side of the plate, the names Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel were engraved. The side with the symbols was placed against the crystal, and then the gold plate was mounted to a pedestal of ebony or ivory. I’m assuming the plate was molded to the shape of the crystal.

However, that said, the more common (by far) interpretation, which makes more sense to me and which is more popular, is the former: use a thin plate of gold, make a hole in the plate, and set the crystal into the hole such that it’s visible from both sides.

Either way, we must set the plate into a pedestal made of either ivory or ebony; alternatively, from a practical point of view, we set the crystal directly into the pedestal, and then place one gold plate with a hole in the middle around the crystal on the front of the pedestal, and another on the reverse. Either works, so long as the final result looks the same; we want the gold to be visible from both sides of the pedestal, which necessitates it either a large circle cut out from the pedestal for the gold plate and crystal to fit into, or the crystal put into a hole in the wood on a recessed surface and gold being put on either side. The former would be ideal. Why do we need to have the plate, or at least some gold surface, visible from both sides? Because there are inscriptions to be made on the plate on both sides, and it doesn’t make sense for there to be just one plate tacked onto the wood with half the inscriptions visible and the other half hidden by the wood.

How big should the plate be? Based on the image given in DSIC, it doesn’t look all that big compared to the crystal. If the crystal is about 1.5″ in diameter, then using that very image from DSIC as a guide, the plate should be about 2.32″ in diameter, giving us a space of about 0.4″ to write within on the band produced by the plate with the crystal in the middle; this is not a big space. That would make the whole ebony/ivory board into which the plate itself is set something like 3.3″ wide total, and like 5″ tall or so.  Fr. AC’s pedestals, it would seem, are far bigger than what would be recommended according to DSIC; he also appears (just based on general photos without any clear frame of reference besides guessing) to use a larger-sized crystal (despite what he said about the benefits of it being small in the last post) with a bit more ebony wood on all sides of the plate.

(EDIT 2019-08-20: In a private message to me, Fr. AC confirmed that the crystals he uses in every ebony pedestal he makes are 1.5″ in diameter.  I’ve never seen his tools in person, so it could be that the pictures in which he shows them makes me think they’re larger than they are.  So my assumption about them being larger in what he makes is wrong, and I appreciate his correction!)

On one side of the gold plate (or on the gold plate on one side of the pedestal, depending on how you interpret it) should be written the names of the four archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel; interestingly, although Uriel is almost never given to rule over planets, DSIC says that Uriel rules over Venus, though in the table of planetary hours and presiding angels at the end of DSIC, we see Anael instead. I think the ascription of Uriel to Venus, even if interesting, is almost certainly a mistake if not a once-off departure from the usual associations we see of either Uriel or of Venus.

Now, there’s already a problem here; the text says to engrave the names Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael (presumably in that order), while the image from DSIC gives the order (clockwise, starting from the top) Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. I personally like the order given in the image better; this puts Raphael opposing Michael and Gabriel opposing Uriel, which makes elemental sense. If we start at the top of the ring and consider it to be East, then we have it arranged such that Michael of Fire associated with the East (cardinal sign of Fire Aries) and Raphael of Air with the West (Libra) make one axis, while Gabriel of Water with the North (Cancer) and Uriel of Earth with the South (Capricorn) make the other axis; this is shown as the first of three options in the next set of designs. The only issue with this is, if we write the names clockwise around the circle (as indicated by the image in DSIC), this puts Gabriel on the right and Uriel on the left, which makes the angelic directions go counterclockwise. I’m not pleased by that, honestly, but it’s what the image explicitly shows, and I’m willing to trust it for this. If we were to keep a clockwise motion here, we’d have Uriel on the right and Gabriel on the left. Either way, they’re on the same axis, so their elemental relationship is still preserved. Besides, if this plate is facing away from the conjurer, then the directions would still match what we’d expect, with Gabriel then aligned towards the North and Uriel to the South, so it’d still work. We’d just need to face this side away from us when it’s put on the table, and since there’s nothing actually saying how to align the pedestal, this should be fine.

Now, on the other hand, if we take the other order and start with Michael at the right point, then we get (starting from the top) Raphael at the top, Michael at the right, Gabriel at the bottom, and Uriel at the left, which gets us the East-Air Fire-South Water-West Earth-North attribution that’s so common in later occult works (option #2 below). Either works, I suppose, but I prefer the former choice, as it lines up better with the elemental-direction association I use based on cosmic directions of the signs of the Zodiac, and which is already used by Cornelius Agrippa in his Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7). GTSC, however, uses the latter choice of Michael-South, but keeping Michael at the top of the ring (option #3 below).

Personally, I don’t see that big an issue with choosing any one of these options, or another option, so long as you have the names of the four archangels on this side of the gold plate and have them arranged in a way that makes sense to you.

But what about the other side? Since no depiction is given in DSIC, we have to interpret what is specifically meant by:

Let there be engraved a circle round the crystal with these characters around inside the circle next the crystal:

afterwards the name “Tetragrammaton“.

I can see two possible interpretations of this, based on how one wants to interpret the meaning of the word “afterwards”:

  1. We inscribe the hexagram with central Yod, the pentagram, and the cross around the crystal in one “ring”, then the name “Tetragrammaton” around the symbols in a second “ring”.
  2. We inscribe the hexagram with central Yod, the pentagram, the cross, and the name “Tetragrammaton” around the symbols in the same ring.

First, note that the first symbol is one I’m describing as a “hexagram with a central Yod”, referring to the mark made in the center of the hexagram.  Following Fr. RO’s reading, I’m interpreting this as the Hebrew letter Yod, the tenth letter of the Hebrew script, which Agrippa explicitly states is the single-letter name of God (book II, chapter 4), and itself has the numerological value of 10.  This makes sense to me, although DSIC never clearly states what this mark actually is.  Fr. AC in GSTC interprets it as a Daleth, the fourth letter of the Hebrew script, which can represent the four-lettered name of God YHVH, as well as “door”, as in a gate by which spirits may traverse or communicate.  I personally don’t find Fr. AC’s interpretation convincing, but I can see why he might read this as a Daleth and not a Yod, given the lack of clarity in the DSIC illustrations.

What about the name Tetragrammaton? This is a commonly-encountered divine name of God used in plenty of occult works both past and present, and it literally means “[word of] four letters”, referring to the name of God in Judaism, YHVH. Personally, I don’t much like using “Tetragrammaton”, because it seems to me like a euphemism to be used instead of the actual name (like the Hebrew haShem, literally “the Name”, to refer to God and his name indirectly); I’d rather write outיהוה than “Tetragrammaton”. However, I can’t deny that the actual word “Tetragrammaton” is used in other occult texts, and its presence on the wand in DSIC suggests that, no, DSIC really means “Tetragrammaton”. Okay, I guess.

Option #1 seems unlikely, given that the specific phrasing of the design suggests an order, and moreover the narrowness of the ring doesn’t lend itself well to multiple rings. as a variant of option #2, we can split the word “Tetragrammaton” up into three parts (“Tetra”, “Gramma”, “Ton”) and intersperse these three parts between the three symbols: “Tetra” between the hexagram and pentagram, “Gramma” between the pentagram and cross, and “Ton” between the cross and hexagram. Splitting up the word “Tetragrammaton” is seen in other grimoires, after all, and the effect is rather pleasing.

Given the spatial appearance of the plate of gold from the DSIC illustration, we don’t have a lot of space between the crystal and the edge of the gold plate, and we probably don’t want to make the engraving too small, instead keeping it at the same size of font. This is probably the most reasonable case to be made for selecting option #2 as what was most likely meant by DSIC for this side of the gold plate—though, personally speaking, I like the variant of option #2 better, with “Tetragrammaton” interspersed between the symbols. Indeed, this is the very choice that Fr. Ashen Chassan takes in GTSC, though he puts “TETRA” on the left between the cross and hexgram with central Yod, “GRAMMA” on the right between the hexagram with central Yod and pentagram, and “TON” on the bottom between the pentagram and cross, as he showed in a detail on his Facebook page.

However, GTSC also brings up a different design choice altogether when it describes the gold plate: the book says that the two sides of the plate could (or should? it’s unclear from how Fr. Ashen Chassan phrases it) be one side, with the three symbols and Tetragrammaton on the inside closer to the crystal and the four angel names on the outside of the gold plate, as this would “feature the names ‘inside and outside’, not ‘forward and behind'”, which…doesn’t really follow from reading DSIC, which clearly states “on the other side of the plate”. From what this description implies, and using my options #2 and #3 from above for the symbol side as well as the Michael-East angel ring layout, we’d end up with these as potential designs for the single-sided gold plate, if we just wanted to engrave one side of it.

I don’t like either of these at all, to be honest, on top of the fact that I can’t imagine that this is what DSIC is actually suggesting we use, just how the symbol ring option #1 above doesn’t seem likely, and on top of the bit we discussed about the specific placement of angels on the disc to matches up with the direction when facing the reverse side of the pedestal.  But these could be considered options if you wanted to just go with a one-sided plate or if you were using some other kind of pedestal that, for some reason, didn’t have the option of engraving two sides.

As for the overall shape of the pedestal itself, which Fr. AC matches petty closely, the DSIC illustration just shows a…something like a schoolhouse-silhouette-like board, cut out with a little lozenge at the top. Getting the lozenge to be that fine of a point at its bottom while still being anchored to the rest of the board is perilous, so I don’t think it could be that narrow without it being too easily knocked off, but alright, whatever. Above the crystal and plate is engraved another hexagram with another Yod in it, at least on the side of the names of the four angels; there’s nothing showing us what, if anything, should be engraved on the other side.

I also want to point out that DSIC says that the pedestal may be made out of either ebony or ivory; the text treats them as functionally equivalent for this purpose.  Although Fr. AC mentions what DSIC says here about the choice, he only ever considers ebony in GTSC.  For all its difficulty to come by and its expensive nature, ivory is even harder and more difficult to come by, and at greater cost.  For ethical reasons, I can’t really recommend getting ivory to be used for such a pedestal.  However, if you have ethically-sourced ivory of enough stability and quality to use, you could use it if you want.  Ebony matches the use of the wand (which we’ll cover later), but ivory would work as well.

Interestingly, although Fr. AC makes these pedestal with a leg and foot for it to stand higher up (see the picture higher up in the post of one of his creations), that’s not actually depicted here; whether that was considered extra or just an oversight just isn’t known. A simple board doesn’t seem able to support itself very well, so it might be that something would be needed to properly support this pedestal on the table itself, whether some sort of anchor or support or weight; a leg does seem appropriate and necessary. Plus, if we do include a leg for the pedestal, as pointed out to me by my good bromancer Pallas Renatus a few years back, then the pedestal for the crystal and gold plate begins to bear a strong visual similarity to the ostensorium, also known as a monstrance, a vessel used in Catholic and Anglican churches to hold and display the consecrated Eucharistic Host or of other holy relics. In that light, having such a pedestal with a leg makes perfect sense, with the crystal taking the place of the Host, the gold plate taking the place of the sunburst so common in monstrances, and the lozenge at the top taking the place of the surmounting cross or crucifix.

Heck, some monstrances even take the shape of miniature churches or cathedrals themselves, which have the same rough outline as the schoolhouse-silhouette from DSIC:

GTSC mentions that there’s another text, Occult Spells: A Nineteenth Century Grimoire compiled by Frederick Hockley. This text describes a similar device to the DSIC pedestal, though which uses a consecrated beryl, “a kind of chrystal that hath a weak Tincture of red”, i.e. a red emerald, though other magicians may use “a chrystal sphere or mineral pearl for the purpose which is inspected by a boy or sometimes by the querent himself”. Hockley goes on to say that “[this] Beryll is a Perfect Sphere, the diameter I guess to be something more than an inch, it is set in a ring or circle of silver resembling the Meridian of a Globe, the stem of it is about 10 inches high all gilt at the 4 quarters of it and the names of the 4 angels viz, Uriel, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael on the top is a cross patee”. Though not identical to the DSIC apparatus, it is strikingly similar, and gives another idea for some to work with. This still retains the loose idea of a monstrance, too, just of the round sunburst style instead of the cathedral- or church-shaped style that’s implied by DSIC, and might even be closer given its simpler nature and the inclusion of the cross on top.  And remember how we pointed out last time that Agrippa considers both quartz crystal and beryl to be watery materials (book I, chapter 7)!

Since Hockley’s text postdates that of The Magus, I think that this form might well be a derivative or alternative form of what’s presented in DSIC.  As a result, we end up having two forms of the pedestal to play with: the church-shaped monstrance style from DSIC proper, and this sunburst-shaped monstrance style from Occult Spells; fundamentally, it’s the same thing, something to hold aloft the crystal above the table, and the only real difference is the general shape of the ebony or ivory material that supports the plate and crystal. I can’t, however, explain the presence of the hexagram with the central Yod inside from the DSIC image, however, and it’s not mentioned in the text itself. We do know that the DSIC images love to use hexagrams, though; they’re on the wand, circle, lamen, and in the ring of gold itself around the crystal, and DSIC does make repeated use of this hexagram-with-central-Yod design that I don’t really see elsewhere outside DSIC. GTSC uses this symbol on both the front and back of the pedestal, but there’s nothing saying anything about it being on either side, just the depiction of it on the side of the pedestal with the names of the angels (which, as I argued above, would probably be facing away from the magician).

I don’t particularly think much of this, honestly; include it if you want, if you have space on the pedestal above the crystal, at least on the side of the angel names, but if you don’t, I don’t think it’s that much of a loss if you were to omit it or didn’t have space for it. I assume that, if it was actually vital to the device, the text would have said something about it like it does the other symbols and the names. Plus, the symbol is already present on the ring with “Tetragrammaton” on it, so duplicating it again on the same object could just be unnecessary and used as a stylistic thing (and I see some authors like Donald Tyson and Fr. AC argue that duplication is probably a mistake in some of these contexts related to DSIC tool design).  I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think it’s that necessary for the apparatus as a whole to have this stylized hexagram present on the actual pedestal itself outside of the gold plate that holds the crystal.  To my eyes, it’s just an added mark of holiness, perhaps used to fill the otherwise empty space above the crystal so as to use more ebony and give it a more churchy-monstrance look, but I don’t think it’s much more than that.

However, let’s be honest: the construction of the pedestal is nontrivial, and not everyone can make the thing to DSIC spec.  Something Fr. AC notes in GTSC is that John Dee (of Elizabethan and Enochiana fame, of course) “utilized a similar crystal device with a gold band wrapping the stone with a gold cross on top”, and that if the pedestal option seems too difficult, this might well (but not necessarily) suffice.  We have a design from Dee’s original journals of such a design, with the crystal inside a band on some sort of four-footed stand:

Not only does the cross on top give this sort of depiction a monstrancy-kind of flavor, it also ties it visually with the crystal stand present in Hockley’s text above.  After all, whether the crystal is surrounded by a plate of gold or a band of gold, it’s still surrounded by gold, either way, and it’s still doing the same fundamental thing as the stand in DSIC!  This idea for using a band of fold was used by Fr. FC of the Faith From Causation blog for preparing the crystal for their DSIC implementation.  Though they originally started with no housing or encasement for the crystal, they realized that the pedestal or something of the like was important, but instead of the pedestal itself, opted for a gold band to go around the crystal (in their case, made of gold foil paper).  In their writeup of the Trithemian tools, they put the divine names and symbols on the inside of the ring and the four angels on the outside.

This is an appealing substitution, I have to admit, since as Fr. FC states, “some sort of housing can block glare from the candles”.  Personally, if I were to go this route, I’d put the angels on the inside (being “behind” the band) and the divine names and symbols on the outside to match what I described about the orientation of the pedestal above.  Plus, it’d put the angels literally on the crystal, and since the whole point of the ritual is to conjure angels into crystals, it seems like it makes more sense that way to me.  Of course, instead of taking this route, one might use another band like this to act as a stand itself; imagine a cardboard tube (like that used for toilet paper) stood up on its end, with “Tetragrammaton” and the three symbols written on the outside and the four angels written on the outside, and you could have another more-or-less viable substitution for the pedestal—though at the expense of having anything going “around” the crystal itself in space.  It’s another option to consider, at least.

And that’s if you want to have the pedestal at all.  After all, many people who use DSIC (especially in the Fr. RO RWC/SS method) don’t use any sort of pedestal, angelic names, or the like at all: they just plop the crystal right on the table.  Though doing so goes against DSIC’s instructions to use a pedestal with sacred names and symbols and the like, countless people have still gotten abundantly useful results (myself included).  Taking this approach, however, typically involves some changes in how the different bits of equipment are designed and constructed.  This includes making possible changes to the table, and we’ll begin getting into the design of that next time.

Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Plenty to Say, so Let’s Start with the Crystal

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

Shortly before the text itself is a plate given with an illustration of some of the implements referenced:

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.