Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: The Planetary Stuff on the Table

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 bit into one of the biggest debates about different approaches to the DSIC, namely whether to use the names of the Four Kings of the Earth (Oriens, Paimon, Egyn, Amaymon) or the names of the Four Archngels (Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel); many grimoire-purists and demon-workers argue for the former, while Fr. RO, Fr. Acher, and a number of others argue for the latter or for either or.  But we’re moving on now to keep the discussion moving; if you need a refresher, go read the last post!

Now that we have the debacle-debate about the four kings out of the way, let’s move on with the rest of the table.  We know from the description given in DSIC that the table needs to have the following on it:

…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…

With the four kings understood, and the debate about the pros and cons about using the four archangels instead of the four kings, what about the planetary stuff?  DSIC says to draw “the names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters”.  That’s…quite a lot of stuff, actually.  According to the text, we need the name of the planet, the name of the angel ruling the planet, and then…well, what exactly do we mean by “their seals or characters”?  Do we mean the seals of the angels, the seals of the planet, or both?  The most common form of table that we see, as seen from Fr. RO’s versions above, use only the glyph for the planet (viz. the ones we most commonly see as a representation of them in astrological charts and texts) and the names of the planetary angels, with no other characters or names present.  We see this in the majority of Tables of Practice with some variants, such as the Magian-script one from the Scribbler, another version made by Fr. FC, and many that are commonly made and sold on Etsy

However, Fr. AC, as usual, goes a bit further.  GTSC gives the following for each planet:

  • the glyph of the planet
  • the name of the planet
  • the name of the angel
  • the seal of the angel

GTSC separates these four elements with middle dots (·), and separates groups of these elements with colons (:).  I like that design choice of separation, but I want to call into question his choice of characters here.  Though it’s a little hard to see, an image of how he sets up his table (along with the pedestal) is up on one of his old blog’s posts:

I find it incredibly odd that GTSC uses only the genitive forms of the Latin names instead of the nominative (e.g. Saturni instead of Saturnus, “of Saturn” instead of just “Saturn”).  Maybe this is due to a result of a poor understanding of Latin on Fr. AC’s part? I mean, it could be read as e.g. “Saturni Cassiel” translating to “Cassiel of Saturn”, but the use of the separator dot would seem to break that construction.  I think Fr. AC made a mistake here: he says he likes the “old spelling” of the planets, but that would properly imply using the nominative case here, just as we wouldn’t say “Michaelis” (genitive of Michael) or “Raphaelem” (accusative of Raphael), just “Michael” and “Raphael”.

However, Fr. AC interprets “their seals or characters” to only apply to the angels and not the planets, but there are indeed characters of the planets, too, which Fr. AC completely passes over in this case.  As noted above, Fr. Acher uses the sigils of the planets derived from their magic squares from Cornelius Agrippa (book II, chapter 22), but Satyr Magos over on his blog Journey Through The Obsidian Dream devised a nonce-based version that included only the planetary glyphs and characters (while omitting the angelic names) from earlier on in Cornelius Agrippa (book I, chapter 33).  Similarly, Erneus of Magia Pragmatica: Key to the Key of Solomon developed a Fr. RO-based design of the Table of Practice that includes the angelic names and seals as well as the planetary characters and images from the Magical Calendar, replacing the usual planetary glyphs with their corresponding images.  And, too, recall how Fr. Acher uses the number square-based planetary seals, too, on his table design.

Satyr Magos uses the planetary characters from Agrippa, but the table design made by Erneus uses the characters that were also used in the Ars Paulina.  The Ars Paulina, I should note, is likely the main inspiration or corroborating text that the Magical Calendar sourced its versions of the planetary characters from, and so it’s these that already have a good argument for using them instead of Agrippa’s planetary characters because they’re already part of a Table of Practice used for the same ends as the DSIC one, even if it’s of a fundamentally different design.  That is, there would be a good argument if only it weren’t for the fact that the Ars Paulina likely postdates Agrippa (given its likely Paracelsan origin), and the Magical Calendar definitely postdates Agrippa.  However, I think either set of characters would work, but I would favor the Agrippa set of characters that Satyr Magos uses.  However, Joseph Peterson mentions in his notes to the Lemegeton that the characters from the Ars Paulina, given the connections that the Ars Paulina also has with book II of the Steganographia of Johannes Trithemius (actually the real author instead of his spurious association to DSIC), may well give this latter set of characters a stronger argument.

While it’d be great to have the name, glyph, and character(s) of the planet as well as the name and seal of the angel, Fr. Acher pointed out in his design of his own table that it’s…just kinda too much.  Plus, it also raises the issue of the fact that the four kings have only names and neither characters nor seals (unless you want to go with the really intricate seals from the Clavis Inferni, as Asterion showed on his blog, which may not be necessarily recommend for this purpose); we could use the elemental glyphs, but that seems weird to me, as the four kings are more about the four corners of the Earth rather than the four elements.  If we wanted to make everything follow the same standard, we’d use only the names of the angels and planets and the names of the kings with no other glyphs or seals or characters, because that’s something they all have, but that certainly misses DSIC’s explicit instruction to engrave them with the “seals or characters” of the planets and/or the angels.  If we interpret the “seal or character” of the planet to just be that planet’s glyph, as GTSC appears to do, then that makes the process much easier and cleaner for us, and it avoids having to cram in several batches of things into a tight space, but I don’t like that approach; it seems to stretch what is normally meant by “seal or character”.  But, including the planetary characters, if we weren’t going to go with the seal/sigil like how Fr. Acher did (which is super detailed and can be hard to do on some surfaces with sufficient clarity) would mean we’d either need either a very large table or a very small font to get everything written in.

Thinking on this for myself, just to consider the planetary elements of the design of the table, I would include the glyphs for the planet, the strings of planetary characters from Agrippa, and the name of the angel; those would be my priorities.  The glyph of the planet basically stands in for and is synonymous with the name (and indeed is read as the name itself in many occult texts), and the planetary characters help to give the planetary power to the table as their “seals”, much as in the same way the names of the four kings lend their power to the table as well.  As for the angels, the angelic names are more important for me than their seals; after all, you don’t need a spirit’s seal to conjure them so long as you have their name, and so long as you have their name, you can develop any number of sigils for that name by which you can conjure them as effectively (or nearly so).  Plus, on the lamen itself (which we’ll discuss in the future), it’s the name that’s given the most prominence rather than the seal, which is comparatively hidden and nestled inside the hexagram.  It’s not that we want to bring the full presence of the angel to the table, either, but just their attention; I feel like this is more appropriate for just using their name rather than their fullness.  All this effectively interprets “the names of the seven planets and angels ruling them, with their seals or characters” as referring to the names, angels, and seals of the seven planets, not the names and characters of the angels and of the planets, nor the names and characters of the angels and also of the planets.  This final point really is up to just how specifically you want to interpret the DSIC description here, and is probably the most serious linguistic point of contention between how different people want to design the table.  However, in doing it this way, we also end up with something that’s on the same scale as the GTSC table combined with Satyr Magos’ design above, and yields a slightly cleaner and simpler design choice.

Moving on from that, what order do we put the planetary stuff in?  There’s no order given in DSIC for this, but given that the order of the Scale of Seven from Agrippa (book II, chapter 10) starts with Saturn and proceeds towards the Moon in descending geocentric distance order, I would think that order would be the most sensible to use.  Of course, you could go the other way, going from the Moon up to Saturn.  I don’t think it actually matters much, but as we’ll see in a bit, I think there’s a good argument to be made for the descending geocentric distance order, especially as we’ll see more about in a bit.  Fr. AC in GTSC agrees with this, that one should use the descending order of the planets, and Fr. RO uses this same order in his Modern Angelic Grimoire and RWC.  Both Fr. AC and Fr. RO use the same image in both their respective books to illustrate why this might be the case, the famous design of the geocentric celestial spheres according to Peter Apian’s 1539 work Cosmographia:

While we’re looking at this diagram, by the way, we also see why Fr. AC used the genitive forms of the names of the planets in his table design, because that’s what he most likely read according to this specific diagram.  Properly speaking, however?  Note the word “COELṼ” (read “coelum”, literally “heaven”) to the left of the glyph for Saturn; this should be read as “Coelum Saturni”, or literally “Heaven of Saturn”, and likewise “Coelum Iovis” as “Heaven of Jupiter”.  If we just wanted to use the planetary names on their own, we’d write the names in the nominative case instead: Saturnus, Iovis/Iup(p)iter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercurius, Luna.  I’m pretty sure the case-based linguistics of Latin tripped Fr. AC up, leading him to use the wrong form of the planetary names.

Anyway, back to orders.  Interestingly, Fr. RO uses another order instead for SS: going in the direction of the names of the angels (counterclockwise due to the right-to-left nature of Hebrew) he uses the order of Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Moon, Mars, Sun.  This doesn’t match the distance order, weekday order, or even weight order of the planets (according to their planetary metals, as I discussed once long ago, that of Saturn, Mars, Venus, Moon, Jupiter, Sun, Mercury).  First, compare the following two Tables of Practice he’s put out, the older one from RWC that uses the four archangels and the distance-based order, and the more recent one (posted on his own Facebook page) that uses the four kings and this new weird order.

I know where he got it from: it’s the association of the planets to the elements and directions according to Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four.  Note how Mercury and Saturn, associated with Water, are placed by Egyn in the North, associated with Gabriel the angel of Water in his version of the table; Mars and the Sun, put by Oriens in the East, associated with Michael of Fire; Jupiter and Venus, put by Paymon in the West, associated with Raphael of Air; and the Moon, put by Amaymon in the North, associated with Uriel of Earth (along with the fixed stars according to the Scale of Four, but which aren’t associated with any planetary angel).  Though he never mentions it in SS, this is essentially Fr. RO’s hiding of his old Table of Manifestation layout from his earlier stuff; Fr. RO is organizing the planets according to their elemental associations, according to Agrippa’s Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7).  While I wouldn’t call this an order, it is an arrangement with its own internal logic.

This is classic Fr. RO stuff here.  Using this same organization for the Table of Manifestation as he uses for his Table of Practice is not an approach that I disagree with, given what Fr. RO uses his Table of Manifestation layout for, but it’s not one I particularly like for the table for DSIC.  I still prefer the descending distance order of the planets, myself, but Fr. RO’s arrangement is definitely a valid approach if you take a primarily elemental/directional approach to arranging things on the table from our perspective as incarnate human beings on the Earth—which we necessarily do.

But there’s also one more issue at play here: the specific names to be used.  Fr. RO and Fr. Acher use the Hebrew names as given in Cornelius Agrippa’s Scale of Four; this is simple enough.  However, this isn’t precisely in line with other sets of planetary angel names.  Granted, many of the names are similar, but not identical, and it shows.  GTSC, for instance, use the names as given in the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, and Erneus put out another version of his table that uses a faithful Hebrew rendition of the same names rather than those used by Cornelius Agrippa (note the subtle differences in the Hebrew in the outer ring).

So there’s also some contention about the exact spelling of names.  To give a comparison between the different versions we’re looking at, here’s a table that shows the various spellings that are common for DSIC Tables of Practice from a variety of sources:

  • The Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano, which gives the names in Latin.  These are the same names given in DSIC itself, with the same spellings.
  • Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.  He gives them in both Hebrew and Latin transcription.
  • Erneus’ version of the table above, which gives them in Hebrew.
  • GTSC itself, which gives the names both in Latin and Hebrew.  The Latin names are identical to that of the Heptameron.
  • SS itself, which gives the Latin names as given in the Heptameron, but frustratingly, two different Hebrew spellings: one for the Table of Practice (which agrees with Agrippa), and another set that appears to be closer to Erneus and GTSC, but with a number of differences, too.
    • There also appear to be some typos: the Hebrew spelling of Gabriel in the Table itself matches everything else, but the lamen omits the letter Yod (giving us “Gabrel”), and the Hebrew spelling of Haniel in the Table uses an initial Aleph instead of Heh (giving us “Aniel”).  I won’t mention these typos as specific spelling differences, however.
    • Annoyingly, RWC (the old Gates texts upon which SS was based) use a different set of spellings on some of the lamens themselves, but which agree with Agrippa’s Hebrew: the angel of Saturn is given as צדקיאל, that of Jupiter צפקיאל, and that of Mars כמאל.  Oddly, the typo of Gabriel as lacking the letter Yod in his lamen is still present.

This gets us the messy table below to compare a variety of all these angel spelling names:

Latin Hebrew
Heptameron Agrippa Agrippa Erneus GTSC  SS
Saturn Cassiel Zaphkiel*† צפקיאל קפציאל § כאססיאל ¶
Jupiter Sachiel Zadkiel* צדקיאל זכיאל סאחאל ¶
Mars Samael Camael כמאל סמאל סאמאל ¶
Sun Michael‡ מיכאל
Venus Anael Haniel האניאל ענאל ענאל or אנאל ‖ אנאל
Mercury Raphael‡ רפאל
Moon Gabriel גבריאל גבראל

* Agrippa renders Tzaddi as “Z” here according to the custom at the time of Hebrew transcription, so these should probably more accurately read “Tzaphkiel” and “Zadkiel”.  Likewise, he renders Qoph as “K”, which would give us an even more faithful rendition of these names as “Tzaphqiel” and “Tzadqiel”.
† Mistake in the text; Agrippa has “Zaphiel” (or, reading Z as Tzaddi, “Tzaphiel”).  “Zaphkiel” (or “Tzaphqiel”) is given in Agrippa’s Scale of Ten, as expected.
‡ Agrippa swaps Michael and Raphael such that Raphael becomes the angel of the Sun and Michael the angel of Mercury, which is definitely a thing seen in many grimoires of the time, which is also repeated in his Scale of Twelve when it comes to the corresponding sephiroth.  I swapped them back to fit in with modern/conventional practice.
§ This Hebrew spelling of the angel of Saturn in Erneus and GTSC would more faithfully be transliterated as “Qaptziel” and could arguably be transliterated into Latin as “Cassiel” (← Qassiel ← Qafsiel ← Qaptziel, account for the Hebrew combination of the /f/ and /p/ sounds).  While reasonable on its own, I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of propagated dyslexia, because swapping Qoph and Tzaddi here gets you the same spelling as in Agrippa.
‖ GTSC gives both spellings, one that starts with `ayin and one that starts with ‘aleph.
¶ Fr. RO seems to have naïvely transliterated the names from the Heptameron back into Hebrew, as some of these spellings seem really unlikely.

There’s a lot more variation in the Hebrew spellings because we don’t really have consistent or reliable Hebrew spellings for these angel names besides what’s given in Agrippa; the usual approach, it would seem, is to take the Latin names from the Heptameron and back-transliterate them into Hebrew, which gets us such varied results.  I don’t much care for this approach, honestly, but it’s not an unreasonable one, especially if you can trace back the root meanings of the theophoric names or use a bit of numerological magic to finagle them into shape.  I haven’t really seen a lot of reliable and historical Hebrew spellings for these angels besides Agrippa, but that might just be my own lack of literature and infamiliarity with texts that others might be more familiar with.

With all these variants above, what would I recommend?  Honestly, since I’m not sure where the Hebrew spellings of the angels came from in Agrippa, or whether they shared an origin with the Latin ones and one set or the other got corrupt, or one set formed the root for the other via transliteration.  While the spelling of the angel ought to matter, I think practice shows that all these names are, even if they are fundamentally different, just synonyms for the same spirit, so that Cassiel is Qaptziel is Tzaphqiel; heck, “Cassiel” itself is such a problematic name, as it was spelled in so many damn ways in the old grimoires, including Captiel, Caffriel, and Cafriel (cf. the Munich Manual entry on planetary conjurations, which has the same origin as the Heptameron of Pietro d’Abano); this could be explained as misreading the lowercase “f” as a long s “ſ” (making the original spelling like Caffiel which was reinterpreted as Cassiel, as in Caſſiel) or the other way around.

My recommendation, at the end of the day, is to pick a set of names from a single source that you like and stick with it.  Experience and reports from many magicians the world over show that they all basically work.  That said, if you wanted to go with Hebrew, I don’t suggest Fr. RO’s Hebrew spellings from SS.  As much as I love the man, I wouldn’t trust these spellings here.  They don’t match the spelling pronunciation rules that are typically used for Hebrew, even for magical names; I’d recommend most going with either Agrippa or GTSC for the Hebrew spellings.

And, one more final note about writing the names themselves and in what script.  Given the late origin of DSIC and the fact that the four kings don’t have a readily agreed-upon spelling in Hebrew, it’s probably best for the sake of uniformity to use the Latin spellings of all the names on the table.  Consider, after all, that all the names and words for the wand, pedestal, and lamen are written in Latin; it follows that those on the table should be, too.  Again, this might have been an innovation by Fr. RO and/or Fr. Acher, who used Hebrew for the names of the angels and, in Fr. Acher’s case, the planets.   However, the lamen design from DSIC does have the name of “Michael” emblazoned on it in Hebrew as well as in Latin, so…I think it could go either way.

If, however, you choose to use Hebrew, at least for the angelic names, then there’s also the option of either using plain old square script that Hebrew is normally and conventionally written in, or the use of the Celestial Script as described by Agrippa (book III, chapter 30), which I personally like doing for planetary, stellar, and celestial angels generally (though I give the square script to the elemental angels as well as the honest-to-God truly-divine seven archangels, but that’s another topic for another day).  The Celestial Script is just another form of Hebrew, using more angular lines and ring-marks to imitate both constellation lines on star maps as well as the ring-mark characters on a variety of magical literature from the classical and medieval periods; this was either introduced or propagated later on by Agrippa with other magical scripts of the time.  While I like using Celestial for writing the names of the planetary angels, I seem to be an outlier in that (except for when I see people using my own designs); Fr. RO doesn’t advocate for this use in either SS or RWC explicitly for his Table of Practice, but I believe I got the idea from the discussion groups in his class (I think).  It made sense to me at the time, given that these entities are celestial beings, and Fr. RO does use the Celestial script for the names of the planetary angels on the lamens themselves.  I just followed suit and used the same font for the table, as well.

And then, related to this point about linguistics, there’s the Fr. AC’s decision in GTSC to spell the four kings out in Greek, which…honestly I don’t understand, and which he doesn’t explain.  I’d just use the Latin spellings, honestly, especially as we don’t know whether, for instance, Paimon should be spelled in Greek script with an ōmega or omikron (ΠΑΙΜΩΝ or ΠΑΙΜΟΝ).  Strangely, Fr. AC spells it ΠΑΥΜΟΝ, interpreting the Latin spelling of “Paymon” to use the equivalent Greek letters, but that’d interpret the Latin “y” as a Greek upsilon, which would give it a pronunciation more like “paow-mon” or “pav-mon”; ditto for Amaymon (“ah-maow-mon” or “ah-mahv-mon”).  I think these are both errors, to be honest; after all, Latin y is not the same letter with the same pronunciation as Greek upsilon.  Consider, further, that the name Amaymon comes from the Arabic jinn Maymūn (ميمون), meaning it should be an “i” sound (Greek iōta, Latin i or y) rather than a “u” sound (which Greek upsilon would imply).  It also ignores the fact that the name “Oriens” is literally just the Latin word for the direction East.  But, even more than that, it also goes against his own reasoning in GTSC for using the Latin names of the angels instead of Hebrew:

I debated for a time whether I wanted to use English, Hebrew, or angelic script for the names of the angels and the planets.  I believe any of these choices are valid and would be appropriate.  However, I eventually settled on the English versions, since this is the language I will be requiring the angels to speak in.

Honestly, to avoid any such confusion, I’d recommend spelling at least the names of the four kings in Latin, and neither guess at what their Greek or Hebrew counterparts would be.  The other names for the angels, both elemental and planetary, could be spelled in any such language or font, but there’s a strong argument to be made to just use the Latin versions of the names (using the English alphabet, which is functionally equivalent) for them all for the sake of standardization and to go along with Fr. AC’s reasoning.

Reviewing the Trithemian Conjuration: Four Kings or Four Angels?

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 how DSIC instructs the table and pedestal to be made.  Last time, we went over the form and design of the pedestal which supports the crystal and which stands on the table.  If you need a refresher, go read the last post!

Okay, so we have the crystal, and we’ve got the pedestal made with the engraved plate of gold that surrounds the crystal (or some variation on that, or none at all, depending on the approach you want to go with).  With that done, we can now get into the second half of the main apparatus of DSIC: the table upon which the pedestal itself sits.  What does this table look like?  We have this description:

…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…

Let’s break this down:

  • The things that are mentioned must be drawn in order.
  • The things that are mentioned must be drawn within “a double circle”.
  • The things that are mentioned are: “the names of the seven planets and the angels ruling them with their seals or characters”, and “the names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth”.
  • A triangle is also on the table, in which the pedestal is placed.

When we talk about “the four kings of the four corners of the earth”, what names are these?  Although DSIC doesn’t explicitly say, the general consensus that nobody disagrees with is that these would be Oriens in the East, Paimon (or Paymon) in the West, Egyn in the North, and Amaymon in the South.  Joseph Peterson of the very Esoteric Archives itself gives a wonderful note on this topic:

There is considerable variation in identification of the four kings of the cardinal directions. Here are a few: Agrippa, OP2.7 has (E, W, N, S): “Oriens.Paymon.Egyn.Amaymon”, however in OP3.24 he says, “Urieus, King of the East; Amaymon, King of the South; Paymon, King of the West; Egin, King of the North, which the Hebrew Doctors perhaps call more rightly thus, Samuel, Azazel, Azael, Mahazuel,” (See Cichus In Sphaeram Mundi, f. 21 apud quem: Zoroa. Fragm. O104; cf. Salom. ff. 28v-29r; sed addict. K: Reuchl. Arte 3, sig. O7r) MC has: “Bael, Moymon, Poymon, Egyn” or “Asmodel in the East, Amaymon in the South, Paymon in the West, and Aegym in the North”; “Oriens, Paymon, Egyn, and Amaymon”; or “Amodeo [sic] (king of the East), Paymon (king of the West), Egion (king of the North), and Maimon.”

That said, many people use the four archangels Michael for Fire, Raphael for Air, Gabriel for Water, and Uriel for Earth instead of the four kings (as I myself have in the past).  What gives?  Such a table design that uses the four archangels instead of the four kings is mostly credited to Fr. Rufus Opus; even though Fr. RO isn’t the only one to have done it this way, he is the one who most people attribute this design to.  As a result, there’s periodically debate about whether to use the four archangels or the four kings.

Personally, my own work has never significantly involved these spirits beyond a token chat, and even to this day, they’re in this grey area of things that I’m aware are important, but I’m not entirely sure why.  Thankfully, Magister Omega of A Journey into Ceremonial Magick posted a wonderful summary of the four kings in the grimoire tradition, and there’s plenty to show how important the four kings can be, especially for goetic magicians, but also for us as far as DSIC is concerned.  While Omega does cite GTSC and Fr. AC’s own personal view as well as UPG from the angel Metatron, he also cites the good Dr. Stephen Skinner and a number of other authors (I can spot some of Jake Stratton-Kent’s words in there, too):

The four kings are spiritual creatures (and therefore winged) but they are demon kings not angels…

The Kings cannot be approached in the same way you might approach the Archangels.  Start with the lesser demons. Threaten them with the name of their King if necessary.  Only after you have bound a few of the hierarchy, then think about the Kings.  You can use the Kings name without having previously called him (that is just the way it works). …

The Kings open the Gates, not something anyone should do unless they really know what they are doing. Their names are useful to enforce discipline on the spirits belonging to their legions. But, as Frater AC mentioned, they are not the ones you would choose to personally grant the usual run of wishes.

It’s odd to me that we would need the use of the four kings, then, if we were going to use DSIC just for angelic conjuration, but that’s just it: the way DSIC is written (and, as we’ll see later, the sources that DSIC itself builds upon and pulls from) implies that it can be used for angelic/theurgic works as well as goetic/non-angelic works.  In that case, the four kings would be recommended, because it does enforce a sort of authority upon whatever’s being conjured—unless they’re not under the authority of such spirits at all.  But, as Fr. AC said, it may not be about authority at all:

As [the archangels and angels] are the vertical, they are the horizontal.  They are the morally neutral yet powerful governors between the planes of existence.

Still, it’s not like there aren’t multiple traditions of Western magic and cosmology at play here, nor can we ignore that there are different eras and developments in those lines.  It’s simply a fact that many (not all) people haven’t worked with these four kings, needed to work with them, or even had a cosmology that required their presence or their roles in ways that Skinner or JSK or others would describe them, both now and for centuries into the past.  Plus, there are also those who have different views on the roles and nature of these four kings and their relationships to the angels; one person’s UPG is another person’s dismissed rubbish, after all.  If you work with the four kings or recognize them as important in your cosmology, great!  If not, then that’s also fine.  After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat: there’s no one way to consider the role or nature of the four kings, and no one way to do conjuration (even with DSIC, with all its extant variants).

Now, back to Fr. RO.  What does he say about his design that omits the four kings in favor of the four archangels?  He explains a bit from RWC, specifically in Lesson 6 of the Black Work class:

The Table of Practice is a symbol of the cosmos. It contains an outer circle with the names of the archangels of the spheres, and symbols of their planets. Within that is another circle, this with the names of the Four Angels* of the corners of the Earth. Within that is a triangle with a pentagram, the Star of David with a Yod, and a Maltese cross.

The outermost circle represents the Seven Heavens and the Intelligences therein. They are the governors of the spheres, and their presence helps ensure you get the spirit you’re looking for when you perform your conjuration. The Elemental Kings provide the gate to the material realm, so the spirits can influence your life materially, if necessary, but they also make sure that any spirit you call up of a terrestrial nature won’t go ballistic and eat your soul, leaving you dead by dawn.

These two circles together represent the meeting of the Heavens and the Earth in your temple space.

The triangle in the center of the circle is rather unique. Triangles are used in conjurations as the place the spirit manifests. In the Lemegeton’s Goetia, the magician stands within the center of an elaborate Magic Circle, and the Triangle is placed outside the Circle. The magician is theoretically safe from the evil of the demonic spirits he’s conjuring because the triangle constrains the spirit, and the circles provide further protection.

In The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, the source book for the Modern Angelic Grimoire, the magician sits or stands within a Magic Circle, but he’s got the Triangle of Art engraved on the Table of Manifestation inside the protective circle with him. The triangle is within another set of circles to protect him, but it’s different from most of the other approaches to conjuration I’ve seen.

I like it better with the spirit in the circle with you for purely practical purposes. It makes it easier to sit in front of the Table of Practice and do the scrying, the crystal can be right there in front of you instead of across the room.

It should be noted that in the Modern Angelic Grimoire, I adapted the Table of Practice from the original instructions. The circles and the triangle are on the Table that you use, but then you’re supposed to build a separate device to hold the crystal ball you conjure the spirits into.

Bryan Garner, also known as Fr. Ashen, has recently written a book on The Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals. He created the tools as specified in the instructions, and if you want to see how it’s supposed to look, you can see pictures of what he came up with in his interpretation on his blog. He added in some stuff from his experience in traditional Solomonic Magic, but it still remains completely in harmony with the original manuscript.

http://bryanashen.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-almost-there-i-promise.html

I tell you this because the things I do, the things I teach are my interpretation, my “Kabala” or “Revelation” of how the grimoires are to be used by magicians who want to use a system that’s proven really effective to me. I encourage you to go back to the sources. In this course, I’ve provided samples and excerpts, but in support of my approach, to make clear certain points that I have found to be really important.

But I’ve filtered it the way I think it should be filtered, and I’ve had good results, but you need to go back to the sources and read them for yourself, explore them with the aid of the spirits. Invest in Tyson’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, or read them for free on www.esotericarchives.com.

When I put the Table of Practice together, I merged the thing that’s supposed to hold the crystal with the Table of Practice image to accomplish the same functionality as the original design. I didn’t have the ebony and gold to follow the instructions myself, so I made do.

It should probably be noted that this was all done after I attained Knowledge and Conversation with my Holy Guardian Angel. The modifications and adaptations I made were made based on things he had revealed to me as I was studying that and the Scale of the Number 4, and some other things that were percolating in my sphere at the same time.

So it’s not totally made up, but it’s not “by the book” either.

Regardless, it works rather well.

So I put all the symbols where they belonged on the Table of Practice. The triangle is where the spirit appears, and that’s in the center of the Circles.

* Some people say to put the names of the Elemental Kings there, Oriens, Paimon, Amaimon, and Egyn. I prefer the angels, your mileage may vary.

He goes on more at length about the specific symbolism and role of the individual symbols used in the Table of Practice according to his own design, and he sums it up at the end:

Taken altogether, the Table of Practice represents our relationship with the Seven Governors, the Four Elemental Kings, and the Process of Manifestation. It is designed to provide the place where a spirit can manifest, and to give us a shared space between the Heavens and the Earth in which we can work together to accomplish the things we have to do.

Note how he says “Four Elemental Kings” here, even though he’s using the four archangels.  This is because of his interpretation of how Agrippa describes the four angels in his Scale of Four (book II, chapter 7) as the “four Angels ruling over the corners of the world”, in contrast to the “four rulers of the Elements” (Seraph, Cherub, Tharsis, and Ariel), the “four Princes of Devils, offensive in the elements” (Samael, Azazel, Azael, and Mahazael), and “the four Princes of spirits, upon the four angles of the world” (Oriens, Paymon, Egyn, and Amaymon).  On top of them being “rulers over the corners of the world” (which does match the DSIC phrasing), he might have gotten an explicit “king” notion, I presume, due to their correspondence in the Tarot as the Kings of the four suits: the King of Wands to Michael of Fire, the King of Swords to Raphael of Air, and so forth.  It’s not a conventional or historical understanding of the four kings, sure, but it’s not a wrong interpretation, either.

That said, Fr. RO does touch on the role of the four kings of the directions.  In his Lesson 4 of the Black Work course, he says:

Then there are the Four Princes. They aren’t nearly as good as the Angels. The astute student will recognize that at least two of them show up in the Lemegeton’s Goetia as Kings or otherwise as rulers of the Demons. Paimon has a seal and a description in the grimoire, indicating he is one of the rank and file of that system, while Amaymon shows up in a description of Ga’ap, who, among other things, can teach you to consecrate the things “under Amaymon.”

But these guys are not demons, at least, not of the type that will come to you and cause you illness and sickness in order to make you suffer and call out to god for salvation. They can do that, of course, just like the angels can, but they are not specifically designed for that.

These four Princes represent the “neutral” spirits of the elements, and they are as far as close as I get to working with demons these days. They are like the worker bees of the elements, in my experience. They, and their assigned legions, are the ones that oversee the manifestation of the elemental directives of the spirits higher up in the, uhm, hierarchy.

I call on these spirits when I’m doing a banishing ritual, when I’m conjuring up some Genius Loci, or when I’m looking for some instant physical manifestations of something in particular. The last type of conjuration, for instant relief of a desire, is where things get sketchy. It’s generally a bad idea to try to conjure on the fly, but having a good relationship with these four princes can be useful.

I also want to note that Fr. RO began using this design of the Table of Practice as least as early as the start of 2007, because he gives an image of a simple form of it in a post from January 2007, though he mentions beginning to write his Modern Angelic Grimoire back in October 2006, suggesting he was likely already using it around that time.  However, more recently, Fr. RO put out another version of the Table of Practice on his own Facebook page in a post dated May 31, 2015, pretty much identical (with one exception which we’ll get into next time) except using the four kings instead of the four archangels, with the following caption:

I’m preparing to give the Seven Spheres Live course, and going through the slides, I remembered that I corrected the Table of Practice in the courses, but never bothered to say anything publicly about it. The Table of Practice I put together for the Modern Angelic Grimoire used the names of the Four angels of the corners of the world from Agrippa’s Scale of the Number Four.

At the time I put that together, I didn’t know anything about Goetia, or the terrestrial Princes, and since they weren’t called out specifically by name in the Art of Drawing Spirits into Crystals, and because I wasn’t sure about working with “demons” at the time, I went with the Angels. It was super effective so I didn’t think it mattered when I went on to other things, and even though I am now very comfortable working with Oriens, Amaymon, Paimon, and Egyn, I never bothered to update the graphics. 

Jake Stratton Kent mentioned it annoys him to no end to have the Angelic names on the Trithemian Table of Practice, cause it’s not technically right (even though it works fine in practice). So I promised I’d fix it in the course, and I did, but for those who haven’t seen the more accurate version, here it is.

Even by Fr. RO’s own admission, the use of the four kings is the correct set of names to use; it’s just that this version never made it into RWC or even SS due to his thinking and approach at the time.  Well, to use his exact words, it’s the “technically right” and “accurate” approach—which doesn’t mean he necessarily agrees with it or that he disavows using the four angels instead of the four kings.  He probably does, but as many people who use the four angels can attest, it’s still a workable method, and so it’s not fundamentally wrong in practice even if it doesn’t agree with the DSIC instructions.

However, remember how I said that Fr. RO wasn’t the only one who used this design choice of the four angels instead of the four kings?  So too did Fr. Acher of Theomagica, as he explains in his own post on the Trithemian Table of Practice, which he developed around 2009.  He explains his own design choices, too (emphasis mine):

On first reading it was clear we needed to amend this design to fit our budgets and purpose. In the original description the whole device is made up of four elements: the crystal, the gold plate, the ivory/ebony pedestal and the table. While we were committed to staying true to the essence of the original, we had to amend the design to match our limited crafting skills as neither of us is a goldsmith nor a carpenter.

After several weeks of study we landed on a design that brought all the carvings together on a horizontal wooden table onto which the actual crystal would be placed. As we had set out to design a table each, we decided to create one fit for a crystal and the other fit for a black mirror.

The actual elements of the carvings are given as follows:

  • These 3 symbols inside a circle around the crystal:
  • The Tetragrammaton next to or around the three symbols
  • Then the names of the 4 archangels, Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael
  • On the opposite side of the table the “names, characters, etc.” (sic!) of:
    • the seven planets with their seals,
    • the ruling angels with their seals and
    • the names of the four kings of the four corners of the earth

Of course at the end of the day the whole table had to fit on our altar in the middle of the circle of art. After measuring the maximum space we could give to the table it turned out it couldn’t measure more than 13 inch (30cm) in diameter. Secondly, we knew we wanted to create the whole table from wood and carve all seals, characters and names on it – rather than just painting or drawing them on. Thus we tested carving magical seals into wood with a standard Dremel device and the finest drill applicable. This allowed us to understand the maximum amount of elements in our design that would fit onto a wooden disc of 13 inch diameter.

After these practical considerations we went back to the drawing board and came up with the following design:

We clearly took artistic freedom here and e.g. brought together the seals of the front and back of the table as well as the table and the pedestal on one single surface. We also decided to drop the names of the four kings of the corner of the earth; it would have simply congested the design we had in mind. However, we still felt confident as this version created a full magical circle around the actual crystal. This was a desired effect as the crystal would be used as the locus of manifestation and would be placed inside our circle of art on the altar. Thus any spirit materializing in the crystal would be bound by the circle, names and seals on the Table of Practice.

Since Fr. Acher was doing his work with the Trithemian approach in “late 2009”, this design certainly postdates Fr. RO’s own, but the way Fr. Acher writes, it sounds like he may have come up with the design independently from Fr. RO.  He might have been influenced by Fr. RO for all I know—I’m pretty sure there was at least some back-and-forth between them over the years, especially as far as some of their Arbatel work was concerned, I believe—but I’m not sure that was the case.  And, by Fr. Acher’s own admission, he took “artistic freedom” in the design of the table, but I don’t think anyone would deny that Fr. Acher has gotten good results all the same with his design choices.

Either way, we have at least ten years of people using the four archangels instead of the four kings, and it’s been shown to be another effective approach regardless of how accurate it might be according to the instructions given in DSIC or how much goetic magicians might complain about it or chide others (Al).  It’s also important to remember that neither Fr. RO nor Fr. Acher made use of a separate pedestal for the crystal; if they had, then there wouldn’t be an issue, because the four archangels would go on the pedestal and the four kings on the table.  Because they dropped the pedestal in favor of convenience and expediency, they combined the design instructions for the pedestal and table.  And, importantly, their methods still work without breaking DSIC.

Still, this topic periodically comes up in talks with various magicians, especially as source of debate, as I said earlier.  There’s a fascinating discussion from December 2014 in one of the Facebook groups I’m in that went into the topic at length.  While I won’t quote specific people (Jake Stratton-Kent, Fr. RO, Jason Miller, Fr. AC, and others got all into the discussion along with many others in a ~150-comment thread), here’s the gist of some of the points that were discussed and brought up for the general consideration of my readers:

  • Using the four archangels instead of the four kings can be an unnecessary, unfortunate, and retrogressive sanitization of the grimoire, if not outright being “wussy”.
  • Using the four kings seems to have become more popular in modern general practice after Fr. AC put out GTSC, which has a more accurate rendition of the table from DSIC, yet people were still get results with it anyway.
  • Using the archangels and not the kings can be seen to (but doesn’t necessarily) erase the option of working with elementals, emphasize celestial entities instead of chthonic ones, and result in an imbalanced spiritual approach.
  • Using the archangels may be more appropriate for working strictly or mainly with celestial and angelic entities generally.
  • Using the kings can help “ground” heavenly or celestial entities into a more worldly form, which would be better for actually “drawing spirits into crystals” and, moreover, to a concrete or visible appearance.
  • Some who have used the four archangels at one time and others the four kings at other times get good results either way, so in some ways, the choice boils down to one’s preference and comfort levels working with either set of spirits, but this may also be dependent upon one’s worldview in terms of which is more useful or whether they’re equally useful.
  • Others report that using the four archangels gets results both with conjuring angelic entities as well as demonic, but demonic results always tend to fall short of angelic ones.
  • Others report that the general effect of the ritual is different.  Using the angelic names facilitate more “astral” experiences, being in the realm of the spirit rather than the spirit being in the crystal, while using the king names facilitate a more traditional conjuration experience with the spirits appearing visibly in the crystal.  This might be due to the angels encouraging spiritual elevation and ascension through the spheres, and the kings due to their expansion and facilitation of manifestation on material planes.
  • The four kings, from a grimoiric point of view (especially in light of the fact that many grimoires say that these four entities are not to be conjured directly), provide a necessary warden and converter for various entities to be communicated with from the many levels of reality, whether physical or astral or celestial or something else.  They are, essentially, neutral powers that moderate exchanges between different planes or spheres.
  • Using the four archangels can be seen as redundant or repetitive, considering how several of them overlap with the angels of the planets, leading to the same name engraved in multiple places on the Table.
  • If you consider the circle of names from the pedestal to “overlay” that of the names on the table, then the names of the angels would “cover” those of the kings.  This suggests a binding, controlling, or thwarting influence to the angels who would be seen in command over the kings.  In that light, the presence of the four angels would suggest or imply the presence of the four kings who would be literally and metaphorically “under” them in terms of power or rulership.
  • Even if one doesn’t much care about the specific distinction between the use of angel names and king names in this specific case, it can matter when one considers their overall approach to Neoplatonic cosmology as used in Hermetic or Solomonic ritual, as well as keeping in line with the extensive history and current of tradition that’s repeated time and again in grimoiric literature.

The fact is that DSIC (almost certainly) prescribes the use of the four kings Oriens, Paimon, Egyn, and Amaymon on the table itself, but because it doesn’t explicitly give those names, there is a DSIC style that arose with Fr. RO and (maybe) Fr. Acher of interpreting this to use the four archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel for the same purpose with either exactly or approximately similar results.  Which DSIC approach you use is up to you—and it’s important to note that, for the most part, most people using either approach tend to omit the use of the pedestal and combined the inscriptions on the pedestal with that of the table, where you need the names of both the angels and the kings.  Using either set of names on the table works, but depending on your specific approach, need, and cosmology, one set might work better than the other, or it might not; there are a lot of variables and theories here, and it can be justified any which way.  However, if you want to take a strict approach to DSIC, then you’d want to use the four kings on the table and not the four angels, but having the four angels kept using the pedestal.  (Or, perhaps, placed somewhere else on the table to accommodate the lack of a pedestal.  We’ll talk about that option soon enough.)

The most common approach most people take when using DSIC-based conjuration is that they generally tend to omit the pedestal entirely and only use the table.  This means that, unless you’re going to use some sort of unusual combined approach that has both the four archangels and the four kings at the same time on the table, you’re going to miss out on one group or the other.  Depending on how you view the roles of either or both sets of entities, you might consider it a loss or you might not.  However, I think there’s one thing that we can rule out from the list of concerns raised in that discussion thread from above: that having the four archangels from the pedestal on the table itself is “redundant or repetitive”.  For one, the four archangels are not the planetary angels; Michael of the Sun is not Michael of Fire, and Uriel isn’t planetary at all (despite what DSIC might say about him being an angel of Venus).  The name might be the same, but DSIC (and a number of other texts) that a both a spirit’s name and office are significant, and the offices of these spirits are different, which effectively makes them different spirits.  If this was truly just a repetitive thing, then these four angels as a distinct, discrete set shouldn’t appear anywhere at all on either the pedestal or table, which are meant to operate together as a single overall apparatus.  But they do, which means they’re not unnecessary.

For myself?  Because I started with RWC, I’ve used the four angels approach, and that has gotten me to where I am today; I don’t think anyone can really say that it’s ineffective, because I’m quite the counterfactual anecdote that it’s not (along with Fr. RO, Fr. Acher, and many others).  That being said, if I were to start again knowing what I know now, doing what I do now, I’d probably use the four kings approach, and if or when I make myself another table, I would probably use them instead of the four angels, incorporating the four angels somewhere else, so long as both sets are present.  If nothing else, I’ll have another table to experiment with and can draw my own experiential conclusions from that, and perhaps use the two separate tables for different purposes.

So much for the kings versus angel debate.  Thing is, this is just one part of the contents of the table; we’ll get into the rest of the fun stuff next week when we talk about the planetary considerations.

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.

De Regnis: Supplies and Objects

Although most of my writing is visible and accessible through my blog and my ebooks, there are a bunch of writing projects that I don’t necessarily intend for public release.  When I was recently going through my old documents folder on my computer, I found a writing project I had intended to be a compendium of Hermetic and Neoplatonic knowledge, guidance, and advice that would serve to document my understandings and work as a textbook unto itself, both for my benefit and any who might come after me.  This project, De Regnis or “On Kingdoms”, got pretty far along before it got abandoned, though parts of it serve as seeds or are outright cannibalized for some of my other works.  Though I have no plans to continue writing this text, I want to share some of the sections I wrote that can act as a useful introduction to some of the practices of Hermetic magic in a modern context.  My views and practices and experiences have grown considerably since then, but perhaps it can help those who are just getting started or are curious about how to fortify their own practices and views.  If you have any views, comments, suggestions, or ideas on the topics shared in this post, please feel free to share in the comments!

Today’s selection will be on the topics of supplies, tools, and objects.

On Supplies and Objects

Although the primary heart of spiritual work with the kingdoms of the cosmos is inherently intangible and immaterial, material goods and substances form an important part of many spiritual paths,whether acting as focuses and stimulants for the body or for symbols for the mind to dwell on to obtain higher meaning. The use of ritual tools, magical items, consumable food and drink, and other supplies has a long history across the world, whether offering alcohol to spirits, use of drums and sacred instruments to induce trances, or creating charms and amulets for loved ones to keep them safe. Although there are effectively as many spiritual types of items as there are mundane items, a few large categories are described below that are important to the magus.

Tools. In the course of magical and spiritual ritual, specialized objects that undergo specific consecration for select purposes are used; these are the magician’s tools. Tools may take the form of simple day-to-day objects, such as pens or kitchen knives, but often are elaborated, decorated, and made special through their form, such as by detailed engraving or anointing with oil. Magical tool soften undergo specific rituals of consecration or blessing, where the tools are not only cleansed and dedicated to ritual, but also often for a specific practice or limited use within ritual. For instance,some ritual practitioners have four types of bladed instruments: a ritual sword to represent the element of Air and the powers of the mental faculties, a utility knife dedicated for cutting material things or sacrifices, a spiritual knife to draw circles or engrave special characters, and a war sword used to represent the planet of Mars for offensive and defensive works against spirits and animals alike. Different traditions use different sets of tools, both for their material purposes as well as symbolic meaning, such as the attributions of the elements of Fire and Air to the wand and the sword. However, common sets of ritual tools often include a wand or a staff, a knife, a chalice, a pentacle, a scrying medium such as a crystal ball or mirror, a brazier or censer, an engraving tool,and so forth. Divination tools and supplies, such as a deck of divination cards or dice, also fall into this category.

Clothing. Ritual clothing is similarly important in spiritual work, acting as another type of magical object. Special clothing, kept and used strictly for magical work, helps the magician in both stepping into the proper mindset for ritual work as well as preserving and enhancing the spiritual power of the ritual and the magician. Clothing should be used at the least for enhancing the atmosphere and decoration of the ritual, but may also be generically used for all rituals. Full sets of clothing, such as robes that completely cover the body, may be used across rituals equally well, or minor trinkets such as rings, belts, or boots that may be worn with different outfits can be equally suitable. Ritual clothing may change between traditions or even between rituals in the same tradition, and may be used for multiple purposes at once. These purposes often include protection,preserving purity, aligning oneself to the spirits or to a particular force, and similar purposes.

Talismans. Not all magical objects are those used in ritual. Indeed, many objects may undergo consecration or blessing to bestow benefits or cause changes without any active use. These items are talismans, items that have been magically empowered to cause change. All tools and ritual clothing may be considered talismans, but not all talismans are tools. Talismans are often used to benefit those who possess them in some way, such as protection from spirits or illnesses, enhancing one’s business, or to attract friendship and love from others. Some talismans are dedicated and consecrated by a particular spirit, such as saint medallions, to bestow the attention and blessing of a specific entity upon its bearer. Some talismans are simply set up in the home and left there, such as talismans for protection or safety in the home. However, not all talismans need to be beneficial;talismans to work harm may also be created, left behind as weapons on an enemy’s property or similarly snuck into their belongings to cause malefic influences. Many methods exist to create a talisman, from devout and concentrated prayer over an object to elaborate ritual and sacrifice.

Edible Goods. Particular foods, drinks, and other edible substances may be used in ritual to great effect, either for oneself or for the benefit of a spirit. Many traditions make food and drink offerings, especially those of fresh fruit, harvested grains, clean water, fresh or sacrificed meat, wine or alcohol, and the like; some traditions have the priest or ritual officiant give the food offering entirely without consuming any of it, while others instruct the officiants to partake of the food after the ritual or during it. Blessing food to contribute benefits, or cursing it to harm those who eat it, is a common practice and easily done, either for oneself or for others, even to preserve the integrity of it over long distances or time frames without other preservation. Foods and drinks with a mind-altering effect, known as entheogenic drugs, have been used to enhance or open the mind up to the revelation of gods and the spirit worlds, but should be used with caution. It is important to never use toxic substances without close supervision or control, especially those known to be fatal if ingested. Poisoning others, likewise, is condemnable and generally punishable by governments.

Other Supplies. Beyond food, drink, tools, talismans, and clothing, many other goods often come into play for a magician. Particular incenses, oils, candles, and altar cloths which may be used for anointing or consecration, or for use in different conjurations or communions with spirits, often forms a crucial part of ritual setup, especially given the elemental association of burning incense with pure spirit. Candles, offering light to the world, are burned frequently and used in great quantities to illuminate the world and the worker with the Light from the Divine as well as to honor, exalt, and offer worship to other spirits. Herbs, resins, powders, and dirts from any number of plants, mines, rivers, or other natural features may also be called for, as may some animal parts such as feathers, fur, or blood. Statues, sacred artwork, or other decoration may be desired for work or altar setup, especially when called for by a particular tradition or to call upon a specific spirit.Collecting ancient or authentic artifacts from a particular tradition, era, or culture can connect one with the practices and people who lived in the roots of one’s own tradition. Other implements,such as railroad spikes, horse bits, broken glass, or wooden boxes may also be required for specific rituals. In essence, any object may be used for spiritual or magical purposes, often in creative or novel ways merely by some ideal or purpose-based link that connects an object to a magical ritual.

Tool and Talisman Care. Consecrated objects, being made holy and powerful, deserve careful attention and care to maintain their power and blessed natures. They should not be handled by other people unless it is permissible to do so or if a ritual calls for it, and should not be handled or toyed with by the magician unless actively in use, and unless the magician is in a state of purity to properly handle them. Tools, though they should be regularly used, should also be regularly cleaned, polished, anointed, and similarly maintained. Incense, ashes, dusts, powders,and other debris should be cleaned up and disposed of respectfully, or be reused with care. Any consecrated object, if it requires it, should be duly and carefully consecrated or undergo a type of periodic reconsecration or recharging. Talismans, statues, and images of spirits or gods should be honored and kept clean or anointed, and should be kept in places of respect or holiness such as altars or temples. Metal objects should be gently polished regularly to prevent rust, tarnish, breaking, or similar degradation. Edible and drinkable substances should be kept separate from other supplies, and should be stored and ingested with respect and contemplation. Consecrated objects and supplies of all kinds are a kind of treasure that deserves respect and honor, being made something more than mere matter; disrespecting these objects is to disrespect the spirits and power that made them holy, which can cause problems or punishment by those same spirits.

On Using Apps for Generating Randomness

Not too long ago, someone commented on my blog who’s learning geomancy about what methods can be used for generating the figures.  Personally, after getting my bearings with the traditional stick-and-surface method (which I recommend everyone beginning geomancy to use until they get the “feel” of the system down, as if it were a type of initiatory practice on its own), I either use cards or dice.  Dice divination, especially, is flexible and polyvalent, and I use it for both geomancy, grammatomancy, and other systems of divination as the need strikes me, and not only are they easy to use, they’re also highly portable and compact as a tool.

The issue (well, not “issue” per se) came up in this conversation when the commenter mentioned using an app to generate the Mothers as a whole, or a random number generator to generate numbers with which to reduce into the Mothers.  This particular commenter isn’t alone in using an app for this; I know of other geomancers who use apps to generate Mothers, either as whole figures or as numbers for the rows of the figures.  A feeling of guilt was mentioned, since the commenter hasn’t read accounts of geomancers using apps or seen videos with such apps being used, but I dismissed that feeling because it’s definitely a thing for some geomancers.

Of course, it should be emphasized that it’s only some geomancers who do that, with “some” being the operative word.  It’s not a common thing; most geomancers I know use some sort of tools, with few just using raw numbers pulled from some source or other.  I know it can be a thing for Arabic geomancers to use the Dairah-e-Abdah enumeration of the figures and tell their querents to give them four random numbers from 1 to 16 and using the figures associated with those numbers for the Mothers, but that’s not really a thing in Western geomancy because we don’t really have an equivalent enumeration system for the figures.  Instead, when Western geomancers use automatic Mother generators at all, it’s often with dice-rolling apps or similar random number applications.

Personally, I don’t like using them.  I’m a tangible person, and I prefer tangible tools I can hold, wield, throw, and manipulate with my hands.  For me, I am as physical a person as I am a spiritual one; my body is a tool unto itself, and by using my body to interact with physical things, I can just as easily interact with their spiritual counterparts and ethereal symbol-referents.  Plus, the use of tools helps me get into the right headspace, that light trance state where I can focus purely on the query and act of divination, which I find is essential to getting good results in my readings.  That’s one of the reasons why I can’t exhort new students to use the stick-and-surface method of divination enough, because it helps inculcate the ability to enter that trance state and allows them to tap into it at a moment’s need using any sort of tool or trigger.

Is such a state necessary for all diviners?  I suppose not, though it certainly doesn’t hurt.  I know that I like doing it, and I’ve found that my focus is weakened, my interpretations more vague, my ability to tap into a situation less refined, and my understanding of the symbols in a reading gets a little slower without sufficient mental preparation which, for me, is aided by the manipulation of physical tools.  For that reason, I don’t use apps or other tools to generate figures for me, because it doesn’t do anything for me to help with entering that divinatory headspace.  Pressing a button and reading figures off a screen, or clicking something and then reducing a bunch of numbers off a web page into dots just…it lacks that connection that I find helpful.

When I generate figures, it’s me who’s the one doing that generation; these figures are “falling from my own hand”, so to speak.  I have that connection with the figures of the reading that allows me to tap into the reading and swim in its currents, dredging up whatever treasures and traps I can from it.  For a similar reason, when someone wants my help with a chart, I don’t just read the chart details they give me; I actually spend the time generating the entire chart from scratch with all the details I need, not only to make sure that the chart was calculated correctly, but also to help me integrate the chart into my own sphere.  Even if I’m not in a trance state for that act (after all, the divination was already done by someone else), the mere act of drawing out the Mothers and the entire rest of the chart helps bring those details to life.  It’s like reciting a litany of prayers; sure, you could just skip to the end or anywhere in the middle you feel is necessary, but the recitation of the entire process from start to end makes everything more potent once you get there.

Plus, as a software engineer, there’s something I’d like to clue you in on.  Most random number generators you use tend to actually be what are called pseudorandom number generators, algorithmic methods that approximate true randomness within acceptable boundaries but which aren’t truly random.  The reason why pseudorandom generators are used is that, for most purposes, they’re random enough to be useful, and are generally easier to develop and faster to produce output than true random generators.  For me, though, I’d rather a true random number generator, which can be harder to find or manipulate.  For that, I might recommend the excellent site RANDOM.ORG, which produces truly random results sequences for many purposes.

Now, that said, if you find that using an app to generate random (or pseudorandom) Mothers, or numbers for reducing into odd or even rows for the Mothers, works for you, then keep using it!  I would still recommend learning a set of tools for geomancy or whatever preferred divination system it is you use, because there may be times you don’t have access to a phone or a computer.  Geomancy benefits from this especially in that all you really need is a pen and paper or a stick and some dirt; even if I don’t like the method, it still works, and it can truly be taken anywhere without having to carry tools of various and sundry types that can set off security gates or the paranoid eyes of watchful passers-by.  Still, if using an app works for you, don’t fix what ain’t broken.  It’s not my preference to use it, but I can’t rightly knock it if it works.