Its been sixteen years since I last tackled the subject of sigil magic as a writer and understandably my understanding of subject has evolved dramatically. Then I was writing for a group organised for teenage pagans called Minor Arcana. I wrote a chaos magic column for their magazine called ‘Liber Minor’, and for their website I knocked together a section called the ‘Liber Minor Well Wyrd Website’. My first attempt at writing about Sigils was for the website. Less than a year later I wrote a column on sigils for Minor Arcana’s magazine, Pagan Teenage Voice, with the title Theory 2 – The History of Austin Osman Spare style Sigils in Magic.
Whilst interesting introductions to the subject, these articles reflect more my young obsessions than my current understanding or practise, and I began exploring some of the differences in my thinking in my last article on the subject, Sigils, Servitors and Godforms. Also it is notable in ‘Theory 2’ that I was overly self-conscious about writing for a young audience and perhaps didn’t express my true views on drugs and sex with the confidence I would have wished. Of course I have used both myself with as much success as other methods of altering consciousness, and with the added bonus that they are both rather enjoyable methods of reaching such altered states. When I was saying I didn’t recommend them, I meant for the adolescent audience I was writing for. I mentioned them in the hopes that those that did do such things would read between the lines and try them anyway, since I said that they worked.
Secondly, I concentrated on Austin Osman Spare style sigils and their derivatives, and mostly ignored their precedents. Spares method, described in The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love), involves making a statement of desire, probably starting with words similar to ‘This my will to’, removing repeated letters and making a glyph from those that remain.
Of course, this method of making sigils was not entirely new. Agrippa gave examples of making sigils from Roman letters, from the names of angels and spirits, in the early 16th century. The technique has been used in pretty much any culture that has an alphabet, Agrippa also gives examples of Hebrew and Greek and praises the Arabic characters as combining with the most elegance. The way Spare makes use of sigils may also have a lot in common with their usage in goetic magic, according to Jake Stratton-Kent.
Spare’s real innovation here was in the use of a statement of desire, rather than the name of a spirit, as this bypassed the need to learn complex systems of correspondence and rulership. This is not to say that the latter method doesn’t work just as well, simply that Spare’s method, in its simplest form, requires learning only a single technique that can be applied to any desire. Once you know the technique, you can do magic for anything without further reference to any book.
Of course, if you take the trouble to memorise an entire system of correspondence, such as runes, goetia, i-ching or the tarot, then you can also use them just as automatically, but these tend not to be as easy to learn as Spare’s method. This makes it a great place to start for the magical beginner.
The technique also need not be simple, Spare himself used the simple technique to create an ‘alphabet of desire’ of commonly used sentence fragments and words that he could then combine to create combination sigils representing the full statement of desire. A new sigil would only need to be created for any word or phrase not currently covered by the reusable ones. Other magicians, have turned sigil art into a beautiful explosion of colours and shapes.
Jan Fries discusses many fun ways of coming up with sigils in his first book ‘Visual Magick’, including one based on automatic drawing, that has become one of my favourites. Automatic drawing and writing has been method in many cultures and is also of ancient lineage.
Another traditional method was based on mapping the letters of a word or phrase to numbers, choosing a magical square based on an appropriate planet, and tracing a line between the numbers.
In Chaos Monkey, Jaq D Hawkins discusses what she calls ‘rogression Sigils’. These are sigils cast as a sequence over a planned period of time. These might be one for each of the five elements, cast a week apart. Grant Morrison also discusses extending the sigil through the time dimension in what he called ‘HyperSigils’. His hypersigil trilogy is composed of three comic series, The Invisibles, Flex Mentallo and The Filth. In these he casts a character as himself, including autobiographical elements, and then attempts to shape his own future by writing it into the characters story. Similar to the sympathetic magic of poppets in witchcraft and folk-magic.
Spare, as an artist, illustrator and painter, favoured visual sigils, but other magicians may favour appeals to other senses. I mentioned using the letters of the sigil to create a mantra, but sound can also be used with a symbolic poem or song if you cared to write one. These can be repeated over and over to induce trance. Or you can hum, use a kazoo, play an instument, shake a rattle, beat a drum to create similar affects. Plus technology offers many exciting and experimental ways of working with sound.
You could also create an ‘alphabet of scent’, perhaps with a selection of essential oils keyed to each letter, or come up a similar technique based on taste or touch. Again these need not be created based on a statement of desire, but could be selected via some other method. Dana has recently experimented with an original technique of creating a magical oil blend based partly on an aromatherapy technique of choosing the favourite scents. One wonders what the resulting ‘scent sigil’ would be if we changed this from ‘favourite’ to ‘most associated with the desired result’. An idea to experiment with…
- Austin Osman Spare The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love)
- Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa Of Occult Philosophy, Book III (part 3)
- Jake Stratton-Kent The True Grimoire
- Jan Fries Visual Magick
- Jaq D Hawkins Chaos Monkey
- Logomancy What is a hypersigil?
- Technoccult Hypersigils reconsidered
Introduction. Whilst I might get part two of this series up fairly soon, I may be posting these articles a couple of months apart. If you would like me to post them more frequently, you can encourage me to do so by becoming my patron. I will post the articles monthly once I have a minimum of $11 per month. By subscribing, you will also be helping to support KIA itself.