Firstly let me say I have worked with sigils since 1995 when I first bought Frater U:D:’s book on the subject. I have a fully developed alphabet of desire and I have read and digested Spare, Carrol and the subsequent stream of writings of the ‘chaos’ magick genre.
As a magical device, creating a mystical monogram from letters in fact predates Spare. We can find Cornelius Agrippa describing the procedure very nicely in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy. What A.O. Spare really contributed to the practice was his idiosyncratic magical philosophy – a philosophy driven by a rather garbled understanding of Freud. Freud’s contributions at the time were revolutionary and we can clearly see how this libido driven psychology was to influence Spares writings.
While I thoroughly enjoying creating and using sigils, I thorough despise, but DESPISE the magical doctrine that has flowed from that system. I hate how it’s tenets; assumptions and beliefs are bandied about as a “meta” system - in other words, the great system that explains ALL systems. I hate how, while the adherents of the contemporary practice delight “smashing” paradigms, “hacking” paradigms or any of the other video game derived terms for invasion, they are unable to critically asses some of the basic assumptions of the Spare-derived system of magick. And what I hate most of all is that what this entire genre of magick seems to boil down to for the majority of its adherents is the scribbling of a doodle and then masturbating over it. Why? -Because sexual arousal is the preeminent form of “gnosis”. It is possibly not surprising that ‘chaos’ magick would become so popular with teenage boys – because it employed a favourite pastime!
Forgive me, I do not mean to attack sex magick which is perfectly valid and potent form of magical practice – what I do mean to attack is a reductive and unimaginative approach to magic. Don’t have job? Draw a sigil and masturbate! Want a new lover? Well, draw a sigil and masturbate! Want revenge? Sigil and masturbate.
I know, I know, I myself am reducing the practice – there are other forms of “gnosis” too! We can hold our breath while looking a sigil. We can frighten ourselves while looking at a sigil. Perhaps most effectively, we can bore ourselves by looking at yet another sigil. My acerbic point here, is this: magically this is a one trick pony.
The trickiness of the one trick comes down to a few very flawed assumptions about the system, in my humble opinion. Assumption that these supposed chaos mages should be examining, or hacking , or whatever iconoclastic term you prefer to use for deconstructing belief systems – a cause that they champion.
Flawed Assumption no. 1
A Sigil encodes our desire turning it into a symbol so that it can sneak past the sensor into the unconscious mind.
So first off, let me mention that when you write down your sentence of desire you have already created a symbol! Writing by definition is a symbolic system in which the sentence or words are the signifiers (like a sigil) of a signified (your desire). Your sentence of desire is not your desire – it’s a symbol. By making a symbol out of a symbol, you end up with yet another symbol! This is undergrad semiotics people.
You could then argue; “no, we are encrypting the sentence, by turning it into a sigil”. Or to put it another way – disguising it. This would be a fine explanation, except for something to be encrypted the person who you are hiding the data from, should not be able to decode the encryption. This would work if you created the sigil and then gave it to a friend to cast who had no idea what it means, but this is not the case. You are creating the sigil yourself so you obviously know what it means! It hasn’t been encrypted it simply has been translated into another form of symbol, one which you understand because you created it.
You could then argue: ”the unconscious mind works better with manifesting symbols”. This too would be fine, except as we have established – a sentence is already a symbol. A word is a symbol, a picture is a symbol – hell even sounds are symbols. A sigil is no more symbolic than a picture or a word. You may as well take picture of that car you are trying to manifest magically and masturbate over it.
Flawed Assumption no.2
You have to immediately forget your sigil and your desire for the spell to work.
This assumption in particular irritates me, because it employs the impossible “don’t think of pink elephant” conundrum. The moment you try to not think of the pink elephant you do. Ok so that’s a pain, but what puzzles me more is why?
Why must I forget it? What is the reason?
I have yet to encounter sufficient explanation for this tenet that convincingly explains why its adherents are so blindly anxious about it. One hears that it must be “banished” from the conscious mind so the unconscious can do its work.
Well, thousands of years of magical practice have proven this theory to be a load of crock. Magicians of all cultures, for millennia, have created amulets to wear around their necks – a rather obvious position. People forge expensive talismans of GOLD to wear as a ring to bring the magical desire, the enchantment constantly to attention. Priests built entire temples, pyramids, walls , towers etc – all in an effort to put that spell front and centre. It has always worked to be made aware of the magical symbol once it has been enchanted – and the only compelling reason for hiding the evidence of the magic is if you want the target to be unaware of its effects.
There is a case to be made for not dwelling on a spell once it has been performed – because in essence it indicates doubt. But this does not mean the symbol needs to be destroyed. If I spend time designing a beautiful elegant sigil, I want to see it, thank you very much. No, not dwelling on it does not mean forget about it, destroy the sigil – banish the desire! It means you are confident; you have FAITH that the powers supplicated are going to respond. You aren’t thinking “are we there yet” every five minutes. A watched pot never boils.
And this is the crux of the matter – orthodox sigil magicians are relying tricking on the “unconscious”, their God, into performing the spell – by supposedly disguising it and then sneaking it in there when the unconscious is otherwise occupied with the pleasures of the palm. Then, they have to be very careful not to remind the unconscious of the slight of hand that supposedly has just taken place.
I find this silly and it vastly underestimates the unconscious mind for one. Moreover, magic has worked for millennia with its symbols front and centre.
Flawed assumption no.3
The unconscious mind takes the sigil and somehow manifests it.
Does it really? Do we have any proof to suggest the unconscious mind does the magic? This unconscious sounds a lot like God. Except this is a recalcitrant reluctant god for whom we need to disguise our spells, then distract in order to get the spell in there and then make sure to not remind it that it has just cast a spell in case it changes its mind. This unconscious god sounds like an imbecile to me.
This assumption I think goes to the heart of broken postmodern malaise of occult narcissism in which all magic is “in the mind”. When did the unconscious get so powerful and why on earth must we trick it to get its cooperation?
For millennia we have looked to spirits, to stars, to herbs and stones for power. The universe is powerful and filled with magic and mysterious wonders, yet the modern innovation, which is no innovation at all – turns the whole thing into self-centred, vain and (in my estimation) ineffectual reduction of magic as everything being inside “me”. This is cosmic narcissism.
We have magic in us, sure- we are divine spirits but we are in a dialogue with other agencies. Real forces. We gain power by engaging those forces –invoking, evoking and petitioning. This is the time honoured, historically proven technology of magic. The more we reduce everything to some kind of psychological figment the more depressing, undisciplined and ineffective magic becomes. We end up gazing at our navels, explaining everything in psychological terms.
Explaining magic using bad Freudian psychology is like trying to explain astrophysics using bad English literary theory. Sure you could do it. It might even be interesting – but are you going to get into a rocket ship which has had its flight trajectory calculated by THAT physicist? I don’t think so.
Magic and psychology are distinct disciplines. Much like physics and literary theory are. Comparisons might be interesting, but when it comes down to practicum you don’t want to be mixing them too all that much. I am sure psychologists everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief when would-be magicians stopped quoting Freud and Jung. You just don’t understand Jung and Freud well enough to do that I am afraid. You are cherry picking bits of information that you think makes your writing seems more plausible because it offers some faux academic credibility.
We are sorcerers people – lets leave those archetypes for the psychologists and give some credit to the spirits, stars and gods that help us. We are better off saying the fairies at the bottom of the garden did the spell than accusing the unconscious of it.
Let me tell you if my unconscious did in fact have all this power – I would wake up every morning with Matt Damon in my bed. I dream about him ALL the time.
What Monogram-Sigils Contribute:
Sigils LOOK magical. When you draw your first one and it looks kinda like something from the key of Solomon you feel so pleased with its mysterious charm you feel like running out and finding a pointy hat with stars on it to wear while you scribble your arcane symbol on a scroll. They have magical quality – you could argue that they set themselves apart from other kinds of symbols. They are magical symbols. They are special because they were created for magical use and a sigils power comes from how you use it and how much power you invoke, evoke or petition to invest it with meaning. That’s what gives them power – otherwise there is nothing to set them apart from any other order of symbols.
They are useful in that they are an efficient way to compound and idea into a single symbol. They have graphic and spiritual economy and charm.
They employ some creativity to create and the practice is in fact fun if you have an artistic streak. This is another reason I refuse to forget, or banish them. I like looking at my sigils – they are beautiful. My sigils become MORE powerful that way.
They are good way to express concepts for which there are no magical symbols yet (e-mail, internet, ipod).
They are personal. They are yours and yours alone and there is value in that. Moreover, the more you use them the more powerful they become. As such they are tailored to our aesthetic and spiritual sensibilities.
In short sigils are an easy efficient way to make attractive magical symbols to use in your craft of sorcery nothing more. They are not some radical innovation; they have been around since the dawn of time – as has sex magic.