Sigils and Seals
The use of abstract symbols for magical purposes predates written language, presumably by millennia, and was very likely what all written languages evolved from. Magical symbols are common to many types of magic practiced today. Following are two relatively modern-derived techniques for creating Sigils as a symbolic representation of a magical goal, and Seals as a symbolic representation for an interactive magical energy, or agency (i.e. a spirit) . Either technique may be applied to either type of symbol. Methods of activating each type, however, tend to vary.
Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) was a colorful character in the history of 20th Century art, literature and magic. He’s also know to have influenced Kenneth and Steffi Grant, prominent characters in the history of 20th Century magic and occult studies as well. The reader is encouraged to research Spare’s life and contributions to modern magick, in service of a well-rounded education. In occult circles he’s best known as the progenitor, or at least chief inspiration for what is known today as Chaos Magic, developed and promoted by Peter Carroll and Ralph Tegtmeier writing as Frater U.’.D.’., among many others authors.
Spare is credited with a method of sigil making that was refined and popularized by a Tegtmeier in a concise little book, Practical Sigil Magick, once out of print but now back in circulation and readily available from most any bookseller. Spare’s theories for how and why personally created Sigil’s work is a debatable topic, but that debate iw carried on elsewhere. The subject of the current instruction is the basic sigil creation method. The method is presented with a basic assumption that sigils created in this manner are effective magical tools when employed properly.
What follows is an adaptation of Spare’s method as related by U.’.D.’., but it differs in some of the specifics, based on years of experiments. There are indeed many variants of the basic method in print today. Readers are encouraged to research and compare the technique presented here with other available methods, and to use what suits them best.
Step 1: Develop a Succinct Statement of Purpose
For theoretical reasons, some deem it necessary to start the Statement of Purpose with the words, My Will. For the purpose of this instruction, that convention is considered optional. If the convention is adopted, it can serve as something of a personal signature, a base form upon which the intention is imposed. A variation of that approach is to sigilize ones own name rather than the My Will statement as a base unit around which the rest of the statement is sigilized. Yet another variation can be applied when the magic is intended to act on another person. Instead of ones own name, the name of the other purpose can be used as above.
The following guidelines have proven useful in practice:
- A singular, simplem purpose is preferable to a compound or complex goal
- If the need is inherently multifaceted and complex, other forms of magic may be better suited
- Make the statement short and direct, six or fewer words is a good rule of thumb
- State only the desired endpoint, without detail or ideas about how it should come about
- Phrase the purpose in the affirmative rather than as negation
- For example, if the goal has to do with ongoing harassment, STOP HARASSMENT is usually better than NO HARASSMENT
- Other facets of grammar seem to be less important as long as the statement is unambiguous
- It’s often useful to spend a few days of thought and experimentation before settling on the Statement of Purpose and proceeding to the next step.
Step 2: Reduce the Statement to Essential Visual Feature
It’s worth pointing out that a sigil is an abstraction of meaning, not unlike written language in general. The sigilization process is an extra abstraction that takes advantage of the natural language ability, but carries the expression outside of the mundane context, and into the magical context.
- Write out the statement
- Identify any duplicate letters and remove them, leaving only one instances of each letter in the original statement
- Some pracitioners also eleminate the vowels.
- Rewrite the statement as the remaining characters in a single string
Step 3: Combine the Remaining Letters into Pictograph
Here’s you can begin to exercise some artistic license. You’re free to use any combination of upper and lower case letters, in any combination of sizes and in any orientation. It’s furthermore comment to combine letters by way of common features, such as a vertical line, or a given curve. The end product at this stage doesn’t have to be highly aesthetically pleasing, but more the better if it is at least somewhat pleasing.
In this example, MY WILL is used as a base form (see below), which is then examined for representations of the characters in the goal-portion of the reduced statement, BUNEC in this case. Be open minded about it. For example, the backbone of a B can easily be seen as the line at the top of the glyph, with two triangles dangling beneath to suggest a B. Note that even if all of the letters can be spotted in the base form, something must be added to it to distinguish it as a unique intention. For this example, U, N, E, and C are not easily found. Creative application of the a lower case N captures all three:
Step 4: Stylize the Pictograph into a Sigil
This is where you want to apply artistic license at full strength. You can stop thinking about the lines in the pictorgraph as letters, and simply regard them as lines and shapes. Pay particular attention to the negative spaces as they are often more defining than the lines. Extensive experimentation is common at this stage, and many practitioners produce several versions to choose from. While the above pictographs were clearly produced using a a computer keyboard, your stylized sigil is best drawn freehand.
In this example, an interim step of developing essential shapes in stylized form was applied, with liberty to recombine them in into a completed form:
For those who value simplicity in design, the final sigil above could be simplified further in a variety of ways. One option, as suggested previously, would be to forego the MYWILL portion of the statement and construct the sigil form the phrase: BUSINESS SUCCESS, which would reduce to BUSINEC.
The entire system described above can be used to make Seals to represent a specific interactive energy, agency, or entity, if a name for it is know. See the section on Working with Seals for a more detailed discussion.
A Zodiacal Method
The Zodiac is a well-recognized system with a familiar symbol set. It’s familiarity and typical uses make it an excellent template for generating symbolic representations of magical goals. The system presented here is derived from other examples of template-based sigil making. Donald Michael Kraig published a method of using the Rose in the Golden Dawn’s Hermetic Rose Cross symbol, wherein each pedal is labeled with a Hebrew letter, The sigal is created by drawing a line from letter to letter on the glyph, thereby spelling out the intention. The current method adds specificity to the process by exploiting common astrological methods.
Step 1: Cast a Goal-Relevant Chart
There is no need to learn how to cast an astrological chart or to buy software to get this done. Several website, such as Astrolabe will cast a free natal chart for you. The most important thing is to choose a meaningful date for the chart. There are three main options:
- If the magic is for you, you can use your own birthdate
- If the magic is for someone else, you can use their birthdate
- If the magic pertains to a specific event, you can use the date of the event.
Precision down to the hour may or may not matter. That’s a decision to make for each use. Most free natal chart generators ask for the time of birth. If a specific time is not known or is unimportant, 12:00AM works well as a starting time, and 12:00PM works well as an average time. Make your choices and generate the chart.
Step 2: Convert the Chart into a Sigil Template
This method makes use of a bit of the Kaballah, The left-hand table below is derived from the Sephir Yetzierah, chapters 5 and 6. The right-hand table, is a transliteration of the Hebrew alphabet to the English. While it isn’t necessary to study Kabbalah of any sort to make good use of this method, a modern magical Kabbalah is a common organizing feature of the major ceremonial magic systems in use today, and some strains of Wicca, though usage in those contexts is distinct from Hebrew Mystical usage. Interested parties are encouraged to read the brief source document and associated commentary.
For the current application, these charts are used to assign Hebrew or English letters to the major components of the chart cast in Step 1. The Hebrew may be used directly given sufficient knowledge of the the language to devise a meaningful Statement of Purpose. Otherwise, the English transliteration can be used. The process is the same either way: place each letter of the alphabet onto the astrological chart cast for the sigil/seal, to be used as a template for the glyph.
In this example a Natal chart was cast for the target of the magic, and the English letters were used to create the sigil/seal template. Replacing the Zodiacal signs with letters is a relatively simple matter. The placing the planetary letters presents some challenges, particularly where several planets are placed close together in the chart, as shown below in the region of Gemeni and Cancer. Use a best approximation approach while ensuring that each letter is given a space of its own in the chart. The end result should have overlap between letters.
Imposing the Magical Intent onto the Template
The goal for this example is a raise in salary. Because the natal chart identifies the object of the raise, the word RAISE by itself is sufficient to express the desired magical outcome. To draw the sigil, make a small circle at the first letter, R, then draw a straight line to the next letter, A, then a line from there to the next letter, I, and so on until the word is spelled out. Upon reaching the last letter, draw a short perpendicular line to terminate the sigil.
Note that there are technically no vowels in the Hebrew alphabet, though some vowel sounds are clearly present. In this case there is no E on the chart, so the last letter used for the sigil is S. Vowel sounds can optionally be represented with a hash mark somewhere between the angle-points of the sigil/seal, or a double terminal mark might be used if the phrase ends in a vowel.
Here’s how the above example looks on the template, then after removed as the final product. Thetwo sigils that follow were made in like fashion, and are provided to illustrate a single-word sigil and a sigil made from a two-word phrase. For this method, more than two words can be used to express the intent if desired, but is usually not necessary because so much information can be expressed by the template itself.
After the Sigil/Seal is Finalized...
When the sigil is finalized, a common tradition is to fix it into its final expression. This step of the process tends to be aided by taking great care. Sigils may be carefully drawn onto parchment paper, or may be carved into a candle, or wood, or other material. Whatever the final form, it’s also customary to destroy all of the work product that led to it. From that point on, treating the creation as a unique magical artifact tends to prove useful. Even so, there are many other ways of using magical sigils. One might, for example, surreptitiously place a sigil into correspondences, unobtrusively embed it into a logo or other visual art product… trace it into a fogged window with a finger… the possibilities are endless.
Ideas for Charging Goal-Based Sigils
“Charging” refers to the process of transforming an ordinary object into a magically-active object. The purpose and intended use of the sigil should be considered when choosing a charging method. If the goal is a one-and-done kind of thing, a simple act to symbolize releasing the magic into the world to do its work may be best. If the sigil is designed for long-term use, something more elaborate might be in order. There are no rules to this sort of thing. As is always advisable in magic, expose yourself to ideas from many sources, and then be responsive to your intuition about what’s best to do in each situation.
One philosophy holds that the acts of creating a sigil automatically charges it: once fixed into final form, it’s already working. Others hold that the energy put into it should be discharged in a sense, by a formal act like drawing it on paper or carving it into a candle and ceremonially burning
- If the sigil is drawn on paper or a candle, focus on the it for a period of time then burn it.
- Stare at the sigil while masturbating or having sex to orgasm. Variant includes drawing the sigil on sex partners’ bodies where they’ll be visible during sex. The moment of orgasm is considered by some to be an inherently magical moment for a variety of reasons.
- Hyperventilate to the point of nearly but not quite passing out. This method can be difficult to pull off. Even with practice, the line between conscious and not conscious is very fine. The edge of that fine line is also considered a naturally occurring magical moment by some. How long one need stare at the sigil before passing out tends to be highly individual, but most believe the longer one can stay on that edge the better. Be advised that this method is also not healthy for some individuals. Use with caution.
- Chant a vocalization of the sigil while dancing to the point of exhaustion, with representations of the sigil all around the area.
- Psychoactive drugs might be used to develop a magical state, though caution is obviously warranted, and significant experience is most likely required to make it work well. With that said, some options include salvia divinorum, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and LSD. Drugs that are used for recreational purposes, such as alcohol and marijuana, are typically not suitable for magic. When a substance is used for magic, the experience is better to be exceptional rather than routine. A fundamental key to the magical use of psychoactive drugs seems to be the pre-operational conditioning. Having a definite purpose well-defined in advance, meditating on it in the days running up to the event, and perhaps fasting and/or sleep-deprivation the day before can make all the difference.
Working with Magical Seals
A useful distinction between sigils and seals goes like this: A sigil represents a personally-created magical goal, and as such it’s an extension of the person who created it. In contrast, a seal represents power over an agent or agency that is presume to exist of its own accord.
Seals are commonly associated with spirits in magic lore. Technically, they’re used to restrain a spirit, like the seal on a vessel with the spirit trapped inside. Of course, if one wants the spirit to go abroad to do prescribed work in the world at large, the seal is traditionally used to threaten the spirit with imprisonment if it’s disobedient.
A most classic example are the seals recorded in the Medieval document known as The Goetia. For each of the 72 spirits there listed there is a seal to be used to command and control them (usually worn as a lemen during an evocation. In modern times, a less restrictive attitude toward magically active agencies is useful. Instead of envisioning magical agents as good or evil spirits cast in the Medieval mold, the modern magician can understand them as fundamental tendencies in nature. Where a demon’s job might be to incite lust or greed, an angel’s job might be to foster compassion or generosity. We can simply understand that lust, greed, compassion, and generosity are among the many things that drive and motivate people to do certain types of things in certain situations.
A modern magician might evoke Asmodeus to interject lust into a particular scenario, or rather, might simply introduce lust into the situation by, say, casting a chart to specify the person or situation, then using the resulting template to create a Seal from the word LUST. While perhaps not identical, there are good reasons to opt for the natural tendencies approach over the traditional spirit pantheons. For one thing, Asmodeus and the other Goetic spirits are said to be fickle, deceptive, ornery, etc. The lore has laden most traditional spirits with all manner of human-like character flaws. The argument here is that magical agents needn’t be anthropomorphized that way.
Finally, consider that lust has many of the defining characteristics of traditional spirits, minus the character flaws. For example, Lust has no physical substance of its own but we know without a doubt that it’s a real thing. We know it by our private feelings, thoughts and urges, etc., and by its effects when acted upon. The traditional demons and angels work in like fashion.
As an alternative way of framing magically active agencies, they can also be thought of as specific types of energies. For various reasons, some people are uncomfortable with the concept of spirits and working with them for magic. Those may find the concept of magical energies more to their liking. The distinction between sigils and seals at the top of this section remains viable in the energies context. Sigils are an extension of the person who creates them, and seals are an aspect of nature that is independent of the individual, but can be channeled to specific purposes by way of the techniques described on this page.