Charms for Claytopia

I was fortunate (wink, wink, pun intended!), to get to return to The Future for another Sigilcraft workshop, this time in partnership with my friends at Art Shape Mammoth and in conjunction with the NCECA conference in Minneapolis. Below is the handout that I’m currently using in workshop, thought I’d share for the curious! Photographs are borrowed from ASM’s instagram post about the event.

Goals & Outcomes: To gain a context for understanding where sigil magick originates from and to be able to construct a sigil for use in bringing our neighborhoods closer together by getting to know our community members better.

What is Magick? Western occult sciences grew out of a spiritual tradition called Zoroastrianism, with its origins in the area now known as Iran, and dates back to about 500 B.C.E. Historically encompassing three practices—astrology, alchemy, and natural magic, contemporary Magick has been called ‘the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with the will’ (Aliester Crowley), and differs from decentralized traditions of witchcraft while sharing many characteristics. Viewed as a science, sigil magick should produce objective, quantifiable results. Viewed as an art form, it should elevate us to a higher state of being, which is a more subjective, intuitive and challenging aim - as well as the difference between high and low magick.

Sketching out ideas for what a sigil to know our neighbors would look like.

Sketching out ideas for what a sigil to know our neighbors would look like.

 What are Sigils and where do they come from?

A sigil is a symbol used in magick. The term comes from the Latin word ‘to sign’ and has historically referred to a type of pictorial seal to invoke an angel, demon (commonly understood as an elemental or psychological force) or other supernatural entity in western hermeticism. Sigils were made popular in the ‘80s and ‘90’s within the context of Chaos Magick and refer to a symbolic representation of the magician's desired outcome. I like to expand this definition to include many other instances where magical intentions have been embedded in different facets of folk culture throughout history. Examples can include designs that have been woven into textiles or built into homes for protection, charms forged into tools for potency, movement in dance and in many other places, some now forgotten and some well preserved.

What’s the difference between a sigil and a symbol?

Symbols are typically used as a visual language to convey meaning that is intended to be widely understood (as in emojis or street signs). These include pictographs, ideograms, icons, logos and other pictorial code systems. The thing that distinguishes humans from all other living creatures is the ability to communicate with abstract symbolism. Writing was a gift from the gods, and those who could write and read were believed to possess powerful magic in many cultures. The Egyptian god Thoth is said to have inspired the writings of Hermes Trismegistus (foundational within occultism, written in 3 A.D.), Odin discovered the magic of the Runes while hanging in self-sacrifice on the World Tree, and Druids forbade writing by common people, as to know and write the true name of a thing was to obtain power and control over it.

Sigils are now constructed to obscure the magician’s statement of intent so that it can bypass the conscious mind and embed itself within the subconscious where it does its work. This allows psychological and energetic change to occur within an individual. Thinking of our experience of the world in a ‘microcosm/macrocosm’ model, when we make inner changes, the outer world must respond in kind by shifting to reflect how we currently interface with the universe (as above, so below and like attracts like).

 How do sigils work? 2 schools of thought:

Chaos magick (see Genesis P-Orridge, Austin Osman Spare) does not require belief in any particular system to work. You can approach it as a scientist, atheist, agnostic or from any number of spiritually-oriented practices and traditions. The division in thinking about how sigil magick works is as follows:

1.      Sigils work on a purely psychological level. By changing our concept of self and personal power, we change how we interface with the world, thus bringing our desires into fruition (‘as above, so below’ or ‘like attracts like’).

2.      Sigils are energetic servitors, charged with our own personal energy and possessing power unto themselves to assist the will of the magician. A ‘Hypersigil’ is a complex and concentrated sigil form that is presumed to become an independent entity, acting in the world to bring itself into manifestation (see Grant Morrison, Peter Carroll).

Demonstrating textual and graphical sigil construction methods.

Demonstrating textual and graphical sigil construction methods.

 How do I construct a sigil using letters?

1.      Select an intention to use as the basis of intent – not over specific and not too general, also not in conflict with your higher will. It is important to come at it with the ‘big picture’ in mind, and not to fixate on negatives, as the subconscious doesn’t understand ‘not’, ‘won’t’, etc. Choose something clear, specific, achievable, succinct and POSITIVE.

2.      Create a statement of intent, for example:

‘IT IS MY WILL TO STRENGTHEN AND PROTECT MY COMMUNITY’

3.      Remove all duplicate letters (vowels optional), so that you end up with a string of consonants: TSMWLRNGHDPCHBNFGP

4.      Begin combining letters to create an aesthetically pleasing glyph. If you start seeing more than one letter appear in the pattern made by intersecting characters already used, you can skip over those as you identify them (i.e. using the letter M to represent m, n and w).

5.      When you have exhausted the list of letters to be incorporated, simplify further still, eliminating redundant or overcomplicated shapes. If a picture starts to form while you do this, you may choose to push the sigil in that direction. You may also add small embellishments and/or a border around the sigil to contain the image.

6.      During this process, we try to forget the original statement of intent, which has been distilled down to the sigil itself. Our intention is still encoded within the sigil, even though we can no longer read it, it is still embedded in our consciousness.

What is described above is a textual method for constructing a sigil, but you can also use a graphical approach, encoding your desire into a symbol with an arrangement of marks that represent your statement of intent. This is the way in which folk magic has been encoded into folk art throughout the aeons, hidden in plain sight using vehicles like repeating patterns on ceramics, textiles, woodcarving, metalwork and tattoos. These designs would then carry magical powers of protection and healing imbued in the object.

Some seals for planets about to applied to ceramic talismans with slip trailing tool.

Some seals for planets about to applied to ceramic talismans with slip trailing tool.

 How do I construct a sigil using symbols?

1.      Select an intention to use as the basis of intent – not over specific and not too general, also not in conflict with your higher will. It is important to come at it with the ‘big picture’ in mind, and not to fixate on negatives, as the subconscious doesn’t understand ‘not’, ‘won’t’, etc. Choose something clear, specific, achievable, succinct and POSITIVE.

2.      Create a statement of intent, for example:

‘I GIVE AND RECEIVE LOVE IN ABUNDANCE’

3.      On paper, alongside your statement of intent, make a list of symbols, words, correspondences and elemental forces that represent your intention.

4.      Begin combining symbols to create an aesthetically pleasing design. Your goal is to achieve a synthesis of as many of the listed elements as possible, without over-complicating the end result. Each visual element should work harmoniously to embody the stated intention as well as support the overall design to amplify energy toward magickal ends. Think of this as creating a logo for a specific desire.

5.      When you have exhausted the list of symbols to incorporate, simplify further still, eliminating redundant or overcomplicated shapes. If a picture starts to form while you do this, you may choose to push the sigil in that direction. You may also add small embellishments and/or a border around the sigil to contain the image.

6.      During this process, we try to forget the original statement of intent, which has been distilled down to the sigil itself. Our intention is still encoded within the sigil, even though we can no longer read it in text, it is still embedded in our consciousness.

I suggest starting out keeping it simple, using only combinations of point, line and arc.

I suggest starting out keeping it simple, using only combinations of point, line and arc.

How do I activate a completed sigil? Invoking Gnosis:

Gnosis is a Greek word for ‘knowing’ in a personal rather than objectively verifiable way. It is thought of as an altered state of consciousness necessary for successful magick. This is a departure from preceding magical traditions, which describe energies, spirits or symbolic acts as the source of magical power. The notion of gnosis relates strongly to the Buddhist concept of Samadhi and also emerges from the practice of Kundalini Yoga, where the purpose of the exercise is to concentrate and cultivate the higher will (your greatest possible good as opposed to the trappings of petty self interest).

A gnostic state is achieved when a person's mind is focused on a single point or goal to the exclusion of all other thoughts. The success of this method hinges on an intense period of concentration, then forcefully forgetting the intention afterwards, to bypass the "psychic censor" (linear cognitive faculties that work against the magical manipulation of reality). This embeds the desire within the subconscious, rather than the conscious mind, where it can be enacted through means familiar to intuitive ‘right-brain’ processes. The main types of gnosis are:

1.      Inhibitory gnosis; a form of deep meditation into a trance state of mind. This type of gnosis uses slow and regular breathing techniques, absent-minded thought processes, progressive muscle relaxation, self-induction and self-hypnosis techniques. Means employed may also include fasting, sleeplessness, sensory deprivation or mild trance-inducing chemicals.

2.      Ecstatic gnosis; describes a state of mindlessness reached through intense sensory arousal. Methods for achieving this include sexual excitation, intense emotions, flagellation, dance, drumming, chanting, sensory overload, hyperventilation and the use of euphoric chemical aids.

Talismans ready for Raku firing, designs based around geographical features around home.

Talismans ready for Raku firing, designs based around geographical features around home.

What should I do with the sigil once it has been activated? Two schools of thought:

1.      Destroy the sigil, forgetting that you ever performed the ritual in the first place and trust that the magical operation has been successful and that your desire will manifest in due course. In magickal practices, once the spell has been cast, we treat it like the end result is already tangible. It is important to note that obsessing over outcomes is a negative preoccupation and will NOT produce the desired result.

2.      Retain the sigil, keeping it in a prominent place to continue to be reinforced every time you view it – consciously or unconsciously. In this model, you may choose to cleanse and consecrate the sigil by smudging it and continuing to charge it with offerings of incense and gratitude. It may even become a part of your altar or meditative practice. A note of caution against putting too many sigils into action at once, as they can counteract each other if not in alignment.

How do I know the sigil is working? Enter the paradox of magick:

In physics, the butterfly effect describes how a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state, e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas. Similarly, the desire encoded into our sigil is presumed to manifest through changes in our perceptions and interface with the world. It is important to note that we are focused on the image of the sigil and not the statement of intent as the anchor for our energetic working.

Generally speaking, if successful, small coincidences should begin to occur that act to bring the stated desire encapsulated within the sigil into being. These are ‘ping-backs’ from the universe, letting you know that the sigil is working. If there is no apparent synchronicity after a reasonable amount of time has elapsed (relative to the scope of the desire), assume that something didn’t work. Successful sigilcraft can take several attempts to get the hang of. You may find it helpful to keep a journal, recording your process, statements, sigils, dates of activation and perceived outcomes. You may find that, over time, this record develops into your own magical language.