I was witness to a recent discussion on sigils that made me want to cry. One person arguing that “real sigils” are X and another that “real sigils” are Y. Two people arguing in favor of cripplingly simplistic yet definitive answers.
Magic and Spirits are more subtle than ordinary things, so why we cling to simplistic explanations that lack the nuance of even ordinary things? We then fight over which model is right rather than entertaining the notion that perhaps the issue is more complicated and subtle than we know.
In my life I work with sigils all the time, but they are not all born in the same way. Here are just some sources of sigils and seals that I work with.
SPIRIT GIVEN SIGILS
Spirits will give sigils and seals directly through vision, automatic writing, or dreams. The “Lightning Glyphs”, from financial sorcery are just one example of this. The Strategic Sorcery planetary seals are another. I feel like such seals often convey the presence of the spirit or a spiritual action quite directly.
Some people consider these sorts of revealed sigils to be the gold standard since it is given directly by a spirit or deity. What could be better right?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as all that. Every encounter we ever have is a mix of accurate perception and our own projections. Experiences with spirits are even more prone to these projections and fantasies. The quality of the seal then depends upon the quality of the perception of the person that received it. In the case of the Lightning Glyphs, they all came in a flood during one single operation.
In the case of the Planetary seals, it took weeks and many repeated attempts to get something close to what the spirit was trying to convey. In both cases, the actual rendering of the seal was beyond me so I relied upon artist-seer Matthew Brownlee to put the pen to paper.
My point is that it takes work, and this being the hard-edged material world, the result should never be considered flawless or pure. So, while I obviously favor sigils derived directly from spirit contact, its not as simple as “The spirit showed it to me, so its true!”
As it is with sigils, so it is with the rest of magic.
GENERATED SYSTEM SIGILS
When you look at Agrippas seals for planetary intelligences and spirits you are not looking at sigils given directly by the spirits, but ones derived from tracing seals on the planetary Kamea. The Golden Dawn famously traces sigils in a similar way on a twenty-two petaled rose containing all the Hebrew letters. I have seen other ways of generating sigils based on systems like this. William Gray provides two wheels with different letter arrangements in his “Magical Ritual Methods” book.
I myself sometimes use a spin on a method I learned from Don Webb. I lay out a five by 5 grid and connect with the spirit. power, or action that the seal is to represent. Once I feel that connection with spirit, I let it guide me in filling in the 25 squares with letters of the alphabet – treating “I” and “J” as the same letter. I can then trace names and keywords on this board to generate sigils.
The extent to which these sigils are effective is based largely on how effective the system of generation is. Does this mean that the system has to be given by spirit? Not necessarily. Human beings are spirits. YOU are a spirit, you just also have a body. A person with sufficient realization, who develops a system that reflects a spiritual truth, will produce excellent sigils. Someone who just throws something together because of a brain fart, might not get excellent results.
Though I have a great dislike for Artificial Intelligence, both in terms of current use and where it seems to be headed, I would be remiss if I didn’t include AI generated sigils under this section. To me, unless the developer of the AI was a mystic and coded it in such a way to reflect those principles, this is a dead way to generate sigils, but plenty of people disagree with me. Some feel that if you invoke a spirit or do a spell before asking AI to produce a seal, you should treat it as if it was received from spirit itself.
I have already met students who don’t understand why we bother with mystical practices when all we need to do to pray to Hekate then “talk to her” through chat GPT. Idea like this make me throw up in my mouth a little, but suffice to say that this will be what magic is to some people going forward.
HAND CRAFTED SIGILS
You don’t need a kamea or a rose to trace sigils of course, you can just make them. Chaos magic managed to popularize A.O. Spares method of combing letters of keywords or statements into sigils. Of course this tradition goes back much further than Spare. You can see it in bind-runes, the Catholic ChiRho and innumerable monograms throughout the world.
Wealth Stave from the Amazerak system
Still other methods can be thought of as alphabets of magical action that get combined to make sigils. Icelandic Staves show signs of this, and to some extent I think you could say that some Brazilian Ponto’s were developed along these lines as well. Students that have taken my Black School course can use the Staves of Amazerak to create complex staves like this.
Of course you free yourself even of these constraints and just create….
This raises the question: if these sigils and seals don’t come from a spirit, or get generated by a magical system, how can they be effective? Is it just the mind of the practitioner as Chaos Magicians often assert? Sometimes yes, but often no.
The answer is that a competent Witch, Magician, and Sorcerer has the power to vest authority. You can think of this as the power of naming as well. A Sorcerer can create a seal for a spirit and see if that spirit will agree to the use of that seal. It’s not just the mind of the magician, it’s a pact between man and spirit. The same is true of a created name as well, which is why special epithets and names exist. Not just descriptors, but pacts in and of themselves.
In particularly confrontational situations like an exorcism, the magician can even force the spirit to go by that name and seal. How? The same way that if someone threw you in prison and decided to call you “penguin”, you would answer because the guards or gang leaders have the power to enforce their name for you.
Even in the case of a simple sigil designed for a short term spell, there is more going on than simply what this means in the mind of the magician. The ideas vested in the sigil take on a power of their own and that power gets recognized by other beings and by the world itself, which is absolutely alive with spirit.
The power of the magician to vest meaning and have it recognized is at the root not just of magic, but of what makes human beings different than animals. Yuval Noah Harari argues that the ability to create “Imagined Realities” is what has enabled human beings to get massive numbers of people to act collectively in massive number in a way that other animals simply cannot. This concept can even be enshrined in law, where everything from a corporation to a town to the law itself is defined as a “Legal Fiction”.
STILL TOO SIMPLE
Its useful to break things down like this for understanding and discussion, but we need to remember not to treat these breakdowns as inherently real or having firm boundaries. Most sigils and seals are combinations of the above to one extent or another. The meaning of a sigil or seal can change over time as well.
Seal of Lucifer in Asia or Lucifer everywhere and anywhere?
Take the Seal that is now often regarded as THE seal of Lucifer. In the Grimoire Verum, where the seal originally appeared, it was just the seal of Lucifer in Asia. These days however, it’s used by thousands of people as a Universal seal of Lucifer that has almost nothing to do with the Grimoire Verum, no matter where you are on the globe.
So what happened? Does the seal not really work outside of Asia? I see no evidence of that. Did Lucifer decide that this seal should be more well known and push this as his main sigil himself? Did people just decide it was cool looking and started using it as a universal symbol? If so does Lucifer recognize the new meaning vested in it by people?
Because spirits are subtle beings we don’t need to have just one answer to this. In fact, I would suggest that we always assume we have only a sliver of understanding. As it is with sigils and seals, so it is with magic itself.