After my research had confirmed the possibility of the existence of a ‘Magician of the Orme’ who used book magic to summon the fairies/spirits of Annwn in seventeenth century Wales, I began looking at the origins of this practice. Intuitively it felt at odds with the Brythonic fairy tradition, which is generally based in relationship rather than coercion.
The practice of summoning spirits has ancient roots in Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hebraic, and Graeco-Roman traditions. We find these influences in Roman Gaul, where lead tablets were found invoking Andedion ‘underworld god(s)’ and andernon ‘underworld spirits’ along with the named Gallo-Brythonic deities Maponos Avernatis and Lugus for aid in battle.
In an underground shrine in Chartres was found a pottery vessel used for incense with script on each of its four panels. Beneath the names of the cardinal points ‘oriens (East), meridie (South), occidens (West), and septentrio (North) were listed the names of spirits – Echa, Aha, Bru, Stna, Bros, Dru, Chor, (Dr)ax, (flange), Halcemedme, Halchehalar, Halcemedme’. They were invoked for blessings on three ritual objects.
As Christianity became the dominant religion the pagan deities were demonised. In the medieval and renaissance periods grimoires rose to popularity throughout Europe. Many of these contained long lists of ‘spirits’ or ‘demons’, some of whom originated from pre-Christian gods, along with instructions on how to summon and command them.
The most influential were the Solomonic Clavicles. These date to the fourteenth century but are based on The Testament of Solomon (100 – 400 AD). This tells how the Biblical King, Solomon, built a temple with the aid of demons subdued by a ring gifted to him by God that gave him the power to summon them, and make them reveal their names, abilities, and angelic rulers.
Reading these texts was surprisingly emotive. I found myself swinging from admiration of the prayerful approach, spiritual discipline, and painstaking attention to detail, to rage as I read how this magic was used to subdue the spirits and force them into obedience for low and selfish purposes such as finding treasure. I could feel the fury boiling in my veins – mine or that of the spirits?
In The Greater Key of Solomon we find a complex ritual for ‘conjuring’ spirits. First the magician must make his own equipment – sword, knives, sickle, poniard, wand, staff, robes, crown, shoes, candles, pen, ink, vellum, under the correct day and hour, and consecrate them. For example the knife with the black hilt is made in the day and hour of Saturn, dipped in the blood of a black cat and perfumed.
One of the most important parts is creating 54 ‘Holy Pentacles’ which will control the demons. Each is linked to a planet and an angel and has a set of particular functions.For example, ‘The Fourth Pentacle of Jupiter. — It serveth to acquire riches and honor, and to possess much wealth. Its Angel is Bariel. It should be engraved upon silver in the day and hour of Jupiter when he is in the Sign Cancer.’
The following paragraph vexed me to the extent I felt as if I was the one they intended to ‘strike’:
The Medals or Pentacles, which we make for the purpose of striking terror into the Spirits and reducing them to obedience, have besides this wonderful and excellent virtue. If thou invokest the Spirits by virtue of these Pentacles, they will obey thee without repugnance, and having considered them will be struck with astonishment, and will fear them, and thou shalt see them so surprised by fear and terror, that none of them will be sufficiently bold to oppose thy will.
This has given me a whole new perspective on the pentacle, which symbolises Wicca, and is used widely in modern Pagan magic.
After nine days of fasting, intense prayers to God, and excoriating confessions the Master and his Disciples can begin the rite. This involves further prayers before the construction of an Inner and Second Circle and square traced ‘towards the Four Quarters of the Earth’ with a knife, sword, or sickle. I found myself wincing and feeling a sense of wrongness at the use of such weapons to carve out ‘sacred space’.
The circle is inscribed with the Names of God (TETRAGRAMMATON and the tetragrammatonic names: ‘at the East, AL, El; at the West IH, Yah; at the South AGLA, agla; and at the North ADNI, Adonai’. The spirits are then invoked in their prescribed quarter with the aid of the Pentacles and Knife – the magician must ‘raise it towards the sky as if he wished to beat or strike the Air’ (more violence!).
The spirits are ‘conjured’ by the Power, Wisdom, and Virtue of the Spirit of God’.If the spirits do not come they are threatened not only with the Divine Names but an appalling array of punishments:
on the contrary, ye come not quickly, and ye show yourselves self-opinionated, rebellious, and contumacious… by the which Names we shall harass you… which will make ye tremble and quake with fear… if ye yet resist our powerful conjurations, we shall pronounce against you this warrant of arrest in the Name of God Almighty, and this definite sentence that ye shall fall into dangerous disease and leprosy, and that in sign of the Divine Vengeance ye shall all perish by a terrifying and horrible death, and that a fire shall consume and devour you on every side, and utterly crush you; and that by the Power of God, a flame shall go forth from His Mouth which shall burn ye up and reduce ye unto nothing in Hell. Wherefore delay ye not to come, for we shall not cease from these powerful conjurations until ye shall be obliged to appear against your will.
I was shocked to find such a violent and dominative origin to the rituals whose components, such as circle casting and orienting to/calling to the quarters, have been passed down through the Golden Dawn (Mathers played a large role in editing and popularising the Solomonic Clavicles), through the Western Occult tradition, to Wicca and Druidry, and are used in most generic Pagan rituals.
In The Lesser Key of Solomon we find a similar circle with an inner square labelled MASTER along with a triangle into which to conjure the spirits and a similar use of prayers to God and threats of punishment. This text provides a list of 72 spirits who are governed by the Four Kings of the Cardinal Directions: Amayon (East), Corson (West), Ziminiar (North), and Gaap (South). Itlists their names and powers and provides seals which the magician must wear on his breast to control them.
(7.) AMON – The Seventh Spirit is Amon. He is a Marquis great in power, and most stern. He appeareth like a Wolf with a Serpent’s tail, vomiting out of his mouth flames of fire; but at the command of the Magician he putteth on the shape of a Man with Dog’s teeth beset in a head like a Raven; or else like a Man with a Raven’s head (simply). He telleth all things Past and to Come. He procureth feuds and reconcileth controversies between friends. He governeth 40 Legions of Spirits. His Seal is this which is to be worn as aforesaid, etc.’
(8.) BARBATOS . – The Eighth Spirit is Barbatos. He is a Great Duke, and appeareth when the Sun is in Sagittary, with four noble Kings and their companies of great troops. He giveth understanding of the singing of Birds, and of the Voices of other creatures, such as the barking of Dogs. He breaketh the Hidden Treasures open that have been laid by the Enchantments of Magicians. He is of the Order of Virtues, of which some part he retaineth still; and he knoweth all things Past, and to come, and conciliateth Friends and those that be in Power. He ruleth over 30 Legions of Spirits. His Seal of Obedience is this which is to be worn as aforesaid, etc.
The influence of the Solomnic tradition on English ritual magic is evidenced by Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was published in England in 1584. It contains similar operations featuring fasting, prayers, circles, seals, inscriptions, and most disturbingly the thrusting of ‘five bright swords’ into ‘the five circles of the infernal Kings of the North’: SITRAEL, PALANTHAN, THAMAAR, FALAUR and SITRAMI.
Here we find spirits conjured not only by the name of God but by ‘the King and Queen of Fairies’. This suggests the Fairy King and Queen were invoked, as rulers of the fairies, to command them and put me in mind of how Gwyn was seen to mediate the destructive fury of the spirits of Annwn/fairies. In the Speculum Christiani, Gwyn is invoked for love of his mate to remove the Evil Eye.
Scot also speaks of summoning the fairy Sibylia into a crystal and Sibylia and her fairy sisters Milia and Achilia to bring the magician a ring of invisibility: ‘For there will come to thee fair women, and all in white clothing, and one of them will put a Ring upon they finger, wherewith you shalt go invisible… When thou hast this Ring on thy finger, look in a Glass, and thou shalt not see they self.’
There is much that is sublime, numinous, and poetic within the tradition of ritual magic yet it is clear how the spirits and their powers are abused, subdued and forced into obedience to obey the petty requests of the magician.
Aleister Crowley (ed), S. L. MacGregor Mathers (transl), The Lesser Key of Solomon, (1904)
Elizabeth M. Butler, Ritual Magic, (Penn State University Press, 1999)
Joseph H. Peterson (ed), S. L. MacGregor Mathers (transl), The Key of Solomon, (1999)
Richard Gordon, Dominic Joly, William van Andringa, ‘A Prayer for Blessings on Three Ritual Objects at Chartres’, Magical Practice in the Latin West, (University of Zaragoza, 2005)
Valerie Irene Jane Flint, The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, (Princeton University Press, 1991)