by Herbie Brennan for SOL, July 2002
Please note: This article was written especially
for SOL and the copyright is invested in H Brennan and SOL. Permission
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Even occultists, by and large, consider spirit
conjuration a Mediaeval superstition...
lot of the blame must go to dear old Dennis Wheatley, whose black
magic romances chilled a generation and made him the largest-selling
author in the world. Tales like The Devil Rides Out featured scenes
of evocation in which terrifying demons arose outside the magic
circle to cause the sort of mayhem usually only associated with
Non-fiction accounts of the process
sound no less unlikely. One of the most detailed appears in the
private papers of Benvenuto Cellini, Italy's Renaissance master
In 1533 or '34 (the exact date
is uncertain), Cellini met with a Sicilian priest versed in the
art of ritual magic who agreed to show him an evocation, having
first voiced a few dire warnings about the dangers.
The site chosen was the ruins
of the Roman Coliseum. Cellini brought his friend Vincentio Romoli,
while the priest was accompanied by a second magician from Pistoia.
The equipment laid out included ceremonial robes, a wand, several
grimoires, a pentacle, incense, kindling and a supply of assafœtida
While the others watched, the
Sicilian drew circles on the Coliseum floor and fortified them
ceremonially. One of the circles was left incomplete. The magician
led his companions through the gap before closing it and concluding
his ritual preparations.
Cellini and Romoli were given
the job of lighting a fire in the circle. When they got it going,
they were instructed to burn quantities of incense. While the
man from Pistoia held the pentacle, the priest began a conjuration
ritual. An hour and a half later it bore fruit. According to Cellini's
own account, the Coliseum was filled with 'several legions' of
Cellini expressed himself satisfied
with the demonstration, but the Sicilian undertook to perform
the ceremony again in the hope of obtaining more spectacular results.
To this end, he made a fresh stipulation: he wanted a virgin boy
to attend. Cellini brought a young servant with him, a 12-year-old
Romoli returned to the Coliseum
for the second operation, but the magician from Pistoia did not.
His place was taken by another of Cellini's friends, Agnolino
Gaddi. Once again the circles were drawn and consecrated, the
fire lit and the incense burned. Cellini himself held the pentacle
this time as the Sicilian priest began the evocation.
It's plain from Cellini's account
that the conjuration - spoken in a mixture of Hebrew, Greek and
Latin - was directed towards demons who controlled legions of
infernal spirits. Much sooner than before, the Coliseum was packed
with entities. Cellini asked them to bring him a woman he fancied.
The spirits replied through the mouth of the magician that Cellini
and she would be together within a month.
Although all seemed well at this
point, the operation quickly began to go wrong. The magician himself
was the first to notice. There were, he said, too many spirits
present - possibly as many as a thousand times more than he had
called up. Worse, they had begun to misbehave. Twelve-year-old
Cenci screamed that they were all being menaced by a million of
the fiercest 'men' he had ever seen. Four giants, fully armed,
were trying to enter the fortified circle.
The priest launched into a formula
of dismissal. The little boy began to moan and buried his head
between his knees, convinced they were all as good as dead. Cellini
tried to reassure him but failed, possibly because he himself
was shaking like a leaf. The child cried out that the Coliseum
was on fire and that flames were rolling towards them. He covered
his eyes with his hands in a paroxysm of terror.
The magician broke off his chanted
licence to depart in favour of stronger means. He instructed Cellini
to have his assistants pile assafœtida on the fire. But Cellini's
assistants were by now too paralysed with terror to comply. Cellini
lost his temper and shouted at them. It had the desired effect
and soon the foul-smelling grass was burning merrily. The spirits
began to depart 'in great fury.'
None of the experimenters felt
like leaving the protection of their magic circle. They stayed
huddled together until morning when only a few spirits remained
'and these at a distance.' With the sound of Matins bells ringing
in their ears, the sorry group left the circle and headed home,
with little Cenci clinging desperately to Cellini and the Sicilian.
Two spirits accompanied them, racing over the roof tops and along
All this may serve to convince
you that Cellini was as imaginative as Wheatley, but there are
elements of the story that suggest it should be taken seriously.
One is the appearance of the 'virgin boy' Cenci. The other is
that the spirits spoke to Cellini through the mouth of the Sicilian
These factors give the clue to
what was really happening here. The Cellini evocation did not
produce solid, visible entities like those in the Wheatley novels.
Rather it was a magical operation that made use of mediums. Virgin
children often filled this role from Mediaeval times onwards and
the Sicilian seems to have had some talent for mediumship himself.
That mediums were in use at the
time is confirmed by the diaries of another Renaissance magician,
the Court Astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, Dr. John Dee. Dee spent
the best years of his life experimenting with conjuration, but
never saw a single spirit. Instead he relied on the second-hand
reports of mediums he hired. Although the best-known of these
was the notorious Edward Kelley, Dee, like Cellini's Sicilian,
also on occasion used a virgin child.
The involvement of mediums has
been enough to convince some historians that spirit conjuration
is a subjective phenomenon - essentially a question of the magician's
(or the medium's) imagination running away with him. It's a tempting
conclusion. Clearly there was a great deal of hysteria involved
in Cellini's account as the young medium's terror communicated
itself to the others. But it's also a conclusion that betrays
a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the human mind.
In plain terms, not everything
that goes on inside your head is subjective. That's to say, not
everything in there is the result of your personal experience,
thoughts or even your subconscious. While the healthy human mind
is well protected from them, the totality of the psyche incorporates
transpersonal elements - including the possibility of encroachment
by discarnate, but wholly objective, spirits.
Such a possibility becomes a
certainty when you engage in conjuration. If you call on spirits,
they will come, not perhaps as full-scale Wheatley demons, but
as influences on your thoughts, intrusions in your dreams, or
even, disturbingly, voices in your head. In worst-case scenarios,
there can be a greater or lesser degree of possession; and as
Dolores and I discovered on one historic occasion, spirit manifestation
can also be accompanied by dramatic physical phenomena.
Two cases, both of which fell
within my personal experience, illustrate the potential dangers.
One concerned an early colleague
of mine who experimented with the Abra-Melin system of magic without,
however, putting in place the required safeguards. The immediate
results of his efforts were gratifying - he found he was able
to use the 'magic squares' of the system to considerable benefit.
But each square, traditionally, is linked to a discarnate entity
and over a period of about two years, it seems clear that he lost
control of them. Certainly he fell prey to intermittent possession
by something that followed him around like a black dog. Eventually
his life fell apart.
The second case, although far
less dramatic, is even more instructive since it illustrates a
much more common situation. It concerned a young woman who sought
my help to rid herself of spirit voices.
Spirit voices - voices in the
head - are often seen, with some justification, as symptoms of
an underlying pathology, manifestations of a mental illness that
permits the eruption of unconscious contents and allows the patient
to dramatise his fears. In this case, however, the root of the
condition was clearly something other. The woman concerned had
for years sought spiritual guidance in her life path and to that
end opened herself up to a great many mediumistic practices, ranging
from ouija, to pendulum work to open meditation for spirit contact.
Her efforts were successful.
She seems to have been something of a natural psychic and before
long she was receiving advice from a variety of Inner Plane entities.
She held the pollyannaish belief - surprisingly prevalent in the
New Age movement at the time - that if your intentions are pure,
nothing can harm you. Consequently she neither tested the spirits
nor took precautions in her contacts. The result was predictable.
Over a period of time, the voices moved from benign advice to
harsh criticism and developed a habit of manifesting whether she
called them or not.
I taught her basic banishings,
but while these brought some temporary relief, they did not solve
the problem. I soon discovered why. Although the voices were now
ruining her life - she'd lost her job, her flat and most of her
friends because of them - she remained convinced she could not
live without 'guidance.' So while trying to banish the voices,
she continued to open herself up again via the pendulum and other
methods. Predictably the spirits crept back in again. It took
more than eighteen months to persuade her that you can't close
out spirits and invite them in at the same time. But once that
realisation dawned, her recovery was rapid.
All this is beginning to sound
as if dealing with discarnate entities is more trouble than it's
worth. But that's not the case. SoL is, after all, a contacted
school, which means there's at least one discarnate entity passing
good advice across the great divide. Experience, including the
two case studies quoted, indicates that problems tend to arise
from one of three causes.
The first, and most common, is
misunderstanding the nature of spirits. They are, without exception,
Inner Plane entities. Consequently their most common manifestation
is as transpersonal elements within the human psyche. They can
produce physical effects and even the appearance of materialisation
in the material world, but instances are rare and magicians able
set up the required conditions usually have enough experience
to know what they are doing.
The second is ignoring the safeguards.
God knows, magical textbooks all the way back to the Mediaeval
grimoires are packed with dire warnings about those who ignore
the proper procedures. These warning should be taken seriously
and, if I may add another of my own, you really do need to know
exactly why and how the safeguards work as well as putting them
in place. There's as much nonsense written about magic as any
other subject and without a full, clear understanding of first
principles, you're in no position to judge which 'safeguard' will
actually be effective.
The third is testing the
spirits. Although I should know better by now, I continue to be
astounded by how many occultists - even experienced, well-trained
occultists - are prepared to act on any advice offered by an Inner
Plane source without bothering to question its bona fides. Caution
is always essential. If I knocked on your door in the middle of
the night and began to tell you how to run your life, the very
least you should do is ask to see my passport.