In my practice, experience has led me to embrace the more traditional view of spirits: that where there is space, there is awareness, and this awareness manifests as varying classes of beings possessing different natures and powers. Some are localized, some are not; some can only speak to you using information in your mind to express themselves, some can speak to you as clearly as if they were a person standing in front of you. Some have influence over the material world, some do not. Whatever your personal views and beliefs on the subject, I encourage you to treat them in ritual according to this traditional view, as that is what experience has taught me yields the best results. Besides, as one of my magickal mentors Cliff Pollick once told me: “There is nothing like getting bitten on the ass by something that you didn’t quite believe in.” If and when that happens, you may find you need this book more than you thought.
Just as spirits can sometimes cause harm, so can they defend against it. The practice of invoking gods and spirits for aid is common in almost all religions, and one doesn’t need training in witchcraft to pray for help. While general prayer can sometimes be effective, remarkably so in some cases, the Sorcerer will want to employ some surer methods of defense than just leaving the situation in the hands of the gods. Thus we seek to develop a relationship with various guardian spirits, and to learn the methods whereby they are summoned and convinced to aid us.
In most magickal worldviews there are very powerful, or even omnipotent, deities that are an object of veneration or worship. These beings are typically seen as being somewhat removed from the physical world and thus not very in touch with the goings on of everyday life. Because of this distance between the gods and man, there are often sets of spirits that are petitioned for aid with material problems and are thought to be more likely to intercede in our affairs than the high gods. We have already touched upon the defensive use of the spirits of departed humans through the agency of their graveyard dust in a previous chapter, but there are other types of spirits that can be employed by the cunning magician.
In Tibet, for instance, there are beings known as Dharmapalas, most of whom were spirits in Tibet that received blood sacrifices before Buddhism was brought to the Land of Snows in the eighth century. Because they knew that Buddhists were against animal sacrifice, they caused many problems for the King of Tibet, who was trying to build a monastery and establish Buddhism. The magician Padmasambhava was called upon to travel through
In Catholicism and Catholic-influenced magick such as hoodoo, we have angels and saints interceding, which are seen as more effective than calling upon God himself, because, like the Dharmapalas, they are more connected to the material plane and to the human experience. In vodou, the Loa serve the same function, most of whom were human ancestors that have been elevated to a higher level and now serve the community. It is well known that European witches have called upon all sorts of familiar spirits for aid, and have a long history of dealing with spirits such as the fey and sidhe. The medieval grimoires of ceremonial magick, which were written primarily for use by Christian clergy, are filled with catalogues of spirits that were known to be fast and powerful in fulfilling the requests of the magicians who evoked them.
Because these spirits are not as removed from the human condition as the high deities, they are also not as enlightened and thus can sometimes be dangerous to work with, and so they must be treated with a firm hand. In the case of
In the grimoires, we see similar tactics used for binding the demons that can sometimes get unruly. In this case the various names of God are invoked and the demon, which is often secretly a pagan deity in disguise, is forced into appearing in a comely form and behaving politely. Often these conjurations and bindings are issued in an increasingly more dire and threatening order. The Goetia even goes so far as to suggest placing the spirit’s sigil inside a box and burning it if the spirit refuses to appear.
Whatever tradition you come from, the spirits are generally called upon via some symbol or sound that is connected with them. In the East, a mantra is most often assigned to a guardian, and someone wanting to invoke the protection of a particular spirit might meditate on the spirit’s mantra repeatedly. It would not be uncommon to recite a mantra 10,000 or more times in order to request the aid of a Dharmapala.
In the West, spirits are more often connected with sigils than with mantras, though the name of the spirit is also a powerful link. The word sigil comes from the Latin sigillum and can be translated as a “seal or signature.” The seal of a spirit is not only its signature, though, but its phone number and address rolled into one. In some cases, the seal of a spirit is synonymous with the spirit itself, and thus the presence of a spirit exists wherever its seal is present.
The methods of obtaining sigils for spirits vary widely. In some cases, the seal is a combination of letters (often the spirit’s name) bound together so that the individual letters are all present but not immediately apparent. In some cases a spirit’s name can be traced on a tablet, such as the Golden Dawn’s Rose Cross Lamen and the Agrippa’s’ planetary Kameas. In the case of the latter, the numbers of the magickal squares that make the Kameas are assigned letters according to Hebrew, and the sigil is traced using a circle to mark its beginning and a line to mark its end.
Some sigils are more pictographic, such as the veves of Haitian vodou. For example, Papa Legba’s veve contains a crossroads and a cane, Erzulie’s is a heart, and Gran Bwa’s veve looks like a tree person. Each of these veves conveys something of that particular Lwa’s nature and iconography, executed in an artistic style heavily influenced by French ironwork. Some of the seals in the greater Key of Solomon and the Black Pullet are also very picture oriented and may even have very blatant pictures of rings and people contained within them.
There are also cases where a sigil is revealed directly by a spirit or god. When received clearly, without too much intrusion from the receiver’s conscious mind, these are the most powerful sigils, especially if you were the one to whom the sigil was revealed to. Automatic writing, scrying, and onieric sorcery are the most common modes by which these sigils are obtained from the spirits, and can be employed by you to whatever extent your talent allows.
There are a number of different ways with which the sigil of a spirit can be worked. Sometimes they are worn as talismans or placed in the home and the name of the spirit and any associated prayers or conjurations that are traditional are spoken while contemplating the seal. Other methods involve making offerings to the sigil, such as would be the case with the aforementioned veves.
As I write this, I have a candle in front of me that has the veve of Papa Legba painted on it in red. Before beginning writing today I laid a glass of Bay Rum in front of the candle and called Papa by one of his songs and then asked him to clear the obstacles that often arise during the day that interrupt my writing. In exchange for his service I will offer him a coconut and more rum later, as well as this mention in the book in order to increase his renown.
If you choose to call upon a traditional spirit from an established magickal system, you should make every endeavor to reasonably follow the protocols of that system. This is particularly important in approaching spirits from traditions that still have a very active and traditional cult that has not had to be reconstructed, such as vodou, Santeria, Buddhism, and shamanism. Do not assume that the spirits will be cooperative and understanding if you approach them in the wrong way. If the spirit requires offerings, make sure those offerings are consistent with its nature. If the tradition required that you be initiated to a certain level before approaching that spirit, I strongly recommend that you undergo that initiation before asking it for aid. At the very least, you should consult someone who has a background in that tradition or has dealt with that spirit before. Eclecticism is all well and good, but it must be done with intelligence and respect.
As an example of how this kind of thing can go horribly wrong, a Witch in
This kind of problem doesn’t only exist in African-derived magick. I am aware of a similar problem that was caused by an American who was initiated into the practice of two Dharmapalas that conflicted: Dorje Shugden and Ekajati. Ekajati is a Nyingma Dharmapala, and Shugden is from a small sect within the Gelugpa school. This spirit Dorje Shugden is so sectarian that the Dalai Lama has asked everyone in the
If you choose not to work with a spirit from an established tradition, there are many ways to contact spirits yourself, from which you can then get names and sigils. If you are diligent with your offering rituals, such as those provided in the second chapter, you may notice certain presences hanging around, and you can reach out to these beings and ask if they are willing to work as protective spirits for you. How exactly you do this depends largely upon your own talents and the capacity of the spirit involved. Some people will be able to establish direct contact psychically; some will need to rely upon divination for the answers. Sometimes a question asked during the day will be answered in a dream or when you are hovering between being asleep and awake and thus more sensitive to the influences of the invisible. Trance states can also be induced by over-breathing, meditation, self-hypnosis, chemicals, or any combination thereof.
Certain people, ceremonial magicians especially, would recommend strongly against contacting whatever spirits show up at your offerings or are just hovering about the landscape, writing it off as “ignorant spiritualism.” Their argument is that the spirits in the grimoires have been evoked successfully for many years and their natures are already known, whereas whatever is lurking around the corner could be dangerous and is at the very least not to be trusted.
While I respect the fact that many people feel this way, I don’t find the argument to hold much water. For one thing, many of the spirits in the grimoires that magicians like to use have natures that are anything but friendly and ready to serve. If you are going to go so far as to burn a sigil and ostensibly torture a spirit listed in a grimoire because it is so reluctant to appear, how much less co-operative could a local spirit be?!
As for trust, while I agree that it’s dangerous to trust local spirits blindly, I think it’s dangerous to trust anyone blindly. There are many spirits in the grimoires that are devious by nature. The Goetia warns about the spirit Berith, for instance, as a spirit that is not to be trusted no matter what bindings you place on him. How much worse could you do on your own, talking to what appears at your offerings or in your local places of power?
The last hole in this argument is that these grimoires and spirits were contacted by somebody else first. Someone divined the name and seal, and then wrote the grimoire. That’s not very different from working with various unknown spirits. Sticking to only those spirits that are in the grimoires or known traditions is somewhat like sticking with people listed in a “Who’s Who” guide for all your friends. I wouldn’t do that, would you?
Another way to contact a protective spirit is to pray and ask the gods to send one to you. Certain spirits and angels can also put you into contact with familiar spirits from the legions that they rule over. The aforementioned Goetia, for example, promises that many spirits such as Marax, Malphas, Sabnock, Shax, and Alloces all “give good familiars” when asked. The spirits invoked in the banishing ritual from the second chapter—Abaek, Pyrhum, Ermiti, and Dimgali—all were revealed to me directly by asking Hekate to send protective spirits. There are seals and further rituals for each of them, but that will have to wait for a future book. In the meantime, they can be visualized and called upon either individually or as a group, according to the formula given in the banishing ritual.
In the chapter on home protection, I touched a bit on amulets that represent a fierce presence to scare away spirits such as the garuda door amulets of
The idea that spirits can inhabit physical objects is an old one, and goes back to the earliest prehistoric shamanic practices. Binding a spirit to an object either temporarily or permanently has the benefit of giving the spirit a foothold in the material plane and also provides an easy way for you to contact the spirit to give it instructions and make offerings to it. Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of binding spirits to objects, thinking that it traps the spirit against its will, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The nature of spirits is sometimes said to be like fire, and like a flame it can spread from one lamp to another without diminishing the flame from which it was taken. This explains why spirits, such as the four archangels, can be called upon effectively by multiple people at multiple times, and why objects such as idols and seals are treated as if they are inseparable from the spirit itself, even if multiple objects exist.
Of course, there are cases where the spirits are thought to be trapped in their entirety by very powerful sorcerers, such as when King Solomon supposedly bound up the 72 demons of the Goetia in a vessel of brass and when the Fifth Dalai Lama did the same to Dorje Shugden. In both of these cases, though, the spirits were later released by less proficient mages.
Paul Huson, in his excellent book Mastering Witchcraft, gives a ritual whereby a spirit, or magistillus (Latin for “little master”), is attracted into a mandrake root or an alraun and made to serve as a guardian of the hearth. The mandrake, or mandragore, gets its name because the root resembles a human form, whereas an alraun is a humanoid figure carved from rowan wood. More complex spirit houses can also be made, such as the Palero’s Nganga, which often takes the form of a cauldron with various objects, such as machetes and sacred woods, in it that assist the inhabiting spirit.
As a last word, when dealing with spirits of any type, you should be aware that you are opening your life up to relationships with the other worlds. Like all relationships, it works two ways. The spirits will come when you call, but don’t be surprised if they start calling you back on their own. Magick happens everywhere, not just within the confines of a circle. This relationship is a blessing and is the only way to learn the magick that cant be taught in books, but those not ready to handle this should avoid working with the spirits at all.
Jason Miller (Rev. Inominandum) has devoted the last 17 years to studying Witchcraft and Magick in its many forms. He has traveled to and lived in New Orleans to study Hoodoo, in Europe to study Witchcraft, and in Nepal to study tantra. Miller is a member of the Chthonic Ouranian Temple, the Ordo Templi Orientis and the Sangreal Sodality, as well as an initiated Tantrika in the Nyingma and Bon lineages of Tibet. He is a regular contributor to Behutet, a journal of Magick. Miller lives with his wife and children on the New Jersey shore, where he practices and teaches Magick professionally. More can be found on his website. Miller is also the author of The Sorcerer's Secrets: Strategies in Practical Magick.