A Classification of Magical…Things

I mentioned before that I’m digitizing my personal vademecum (or grimoire, or spellbook, or book of shadows, or what-have-you), which is a really nifty project for me.  For one, it gives me a chance to keep my LaTeX skills in shape, which is something I suggest anyone familiar with HTML or scientific/professional/Linux publishing pick up.  For two, it help keeps all my rituals, prayers, and recipes in a single document.  For three, eventually when my hand-written journal gets full, I plan on printing out a copy of my grimoire through Lulu or something and probably suffumigating it in a holocaust of my old moleskine, just for the magical oomph (I’ll be sure to add in at least as many blank pages for further additions).  For four, if I ever take on an apprentice, I can just print off a copy of this book and give it to them as a starting grimoire, referring to it as necessary.

Well, part of doing this digital vademecum thing right involves organization.  For my handwritten vademecum, there’s no organization involved; simply put in things as I find them.  This leads to Orphic hymns mixed in with Solomonic invocations and pagan apotropaia, which makes finding things more and more obnoxious.  To that end, organizing my spells, prayers, rituals, and whatnot is a fantastic thing, especially with how flexible LaTeX can be.  The downside is that I actually have to go through the process of organization, and that’s where things can get hairy.

I’m deciding on something like a five-fold organization of the different aspects of my practice

  • Prayers: holy words to reach out to cosmic forces.  No ritual, few gestures if any, and no specific intent is ascribed to the individual prayers, though they may be focused on a particular circumstance.
  • Rituals: theurgic practices, high magic, and the like.  Conjurations, consecrations, empowerments, and such easily fit here, though sometimes the difference between Rituals and Prayers can be difficult to discern.
  • Works: thaumaturgic practices, spells, low magic, and the like.  While Rituals focus on cosmic power and celestial or elemental forces, Works focuses on the material, immediate, or quick sides of things.  In a sense, Works is like Rituals Lite; while the latter may involve heavy drama and gear, Works may require maybe a short muttered prayer and a gesture or two.
  • Layouts: the aesthetic, geometric, and philosophical foundation for materials and organizations used in the Work.  Circles of Art, pentacles, altar layouts, sigil creation, and the like go here; permanent tools or intangible processes are what this section focuses on.
  • Recipes: the process and production of materials used.  While Layouts consists of tools or setups, Recipes consists of consumable, perishable, or depletable supplies.  Things like holy water and consecrated candles can either go here or in Rituals, depending on the process used, but Recipes mostly consists of the physical, material, tangible side of things, while Rituals deals with the occult and spiritual side.

To some people, I’m sure this just sounds like organization for the sake of organization.  To me, though, it’s a useful key to figure out the different aspects needed to draw from for a given project.  Say I have an intent, like “I want a new car”; what might I do to obtain it?  I could use prayer to ask for the right circumstances and aid in the matter, a ritual to formally establish my desire and work with the forces of the cosmos to set things up, works or light rituals to keep things active and in my favor throughout the day, a particular layout or method to handle the occult side of things, and a recipe for an oil or powder to make people more amenable to my cause in the process.  It’s not quite a four-level or three-level model of existence, and the different aspects can often be intertwined: a conjuration (ritual) can use a particular invocation (prayer) and consecrated oil (ritual + recipe) using a particular altar format (layout) to obtain a certain goal.

Then again, trying to differentiate out prayers from rituals from works can be a hairy process.  It’s really similar to differentiating religion from magic: what’s legit, what’s not, what’s theurgic, what’s thaumaturgic, what’s official, what’s shady, and so forth.  Consider the Invocations to the Planets from the Picatrix: they’re long-winded prayers, but at the same time, it’s a magical operation.  Do they belong in Prayers, like with the Orphic Hymns to the planets, or do they belong in Rituals?  If the former, what about the ritual or magical side?  If the latter, what about the magical use of other prayers to specific deities or planets?  Sometimes, I go by the source of the text (Picatrix is a magical work, Pythagorean or Orphic literature is more religious or plainly spiritual, etc.), and sometimes I go by how they’re often used.

What are your thoughts on organization?  Do you organize your personal libraries, books of shadows, or rituals?  How do you decide what’s sufficiently theurgic or thaumaturgic for you, if you care to distinguish between them at all?

Sidenote: I’ve been making a lot of blog posts this week, and have a few backed up for a rainy day.  I was really confused at why I was all of a sudden being so productive (at least for my blog), then realized I’ve been working with Mercurial forces for, like, a week straight starting with the Mercury Cazimi election last Monday, plus some nontrivial Mercury transits going on at the moment.  How cute.

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

3 Responses to A Classification of Magical…Things

  1. Aubs Tea says:

    *head-desk* Thanks for this. I need to get my ass in gear on my own similar project. *glances at supplies, lying around and not being used* Yeah…

  2. Hee! I’ve had a similar amount of major writing going on while working with Mercury lately, although he’s sort of left me lurch-like the last few days. I guess it’s time to pay a call, yeah!?

    The project I’m doing is similar, but in fact a lot of it involves recording images from astrology on pages opposite relevant orphic hymns and prayers, and creating diagrams in exactly the anti-organized hodge-podge way you describe, from digital organization. I’ve worked with digital files and paper copies, and increasingly I’m finding that having the handwritten text in a leather notebook in hand — aids in the process of doing magic. YMMV, of course, but I’m finding that the disorganization of the notebook actually aids in the process of acquiring the mental knowledge-base that makes the material useable. One has to know the book, literally, forward and backward, inside and out. You’re making a kavad out of a book — don’t let it be too organized, while at the same time don’t let it become so disorganized that someone can’t follow along. It is, as I wrote elsewhere tonight, the difference between Book of Shadows and Grimoire. The BoS is a combination of the personal and the traditional; the Grimoire should really be for the Tradition, above all else. You get more brownie points, as it were, from the creation of the grimoire, but the BoS is great practice for the creation of the grimoire.

    I realize the previous paragraph is sort of confused and non-linear, and I think that’s part of the point. Learning magic, and learning how to organize the material or set it up, is in part non-linear, because we’re bouncing all over the place as we learn this stuff. We have to figure out what to cut out, and what to keep in or expand. We have to make some stuff ‘pregnant’ for ourselves, rich and fertile; but we have to leave in enough of the Tradition, the Mercury/Hod sphere, that someone else can leave behind what we make. We have to have an overall vision of the book, yes; but we also have to figure out how to manifest it in the real world, in color and text and paper and binding. You’re moving up and down the Tree of Life, thinking about all this stuff, and lighting the Sun inside yourself as you do so.

    Leave space for illustrations, though. I can’t even begin to explain how much you’ll learn from creating your own pictures for the pages, silly as it may seem; but creating visual images for your work is important, eventually.

    • polyphanes says:

      I noticed a few of your pages from your book, and I approve! For me, though, organization is a must. If the Almighty saw fit to separate chaos from order and give us more-or-less neatly arranged diagrams for representing the heavens, elements, signs, and whatnot, I figure it’s probably a good thing to sort things in a way that makes sense (which may be up to the individual author). There’s familiarity with a text, and then there’s familiarity with the subject; knowing a book front to back and back to front is all well and good, but without practice, experience, and putting the book to use, it’s just words and pictures. Order can be just as good as bouncing around from place to place; it doesn’t have to be haphazard and can be fairly linear, though you might have to clarify linear in a higher sense than what straight logic might presume.

      I might differentiate a Book of Shadows and Grimoire differently. To me, a BoS is an all-around magical notebook, combining texts, rituals, notes, thoughts, recipes, and whatnot. A grimoire is more like a textbook, not just for a tradition, but to focus more on ritual setup and boundaries, what to expect and what not to expect, and less one’s experiences and philosophies on the matter. The vademecum I’m making is somewhere between the two, combining prayers, a psalter, notes on timing and astrology and the seasons, small rituals, designs and techniques, and the like.

      As for illustrations, I’m definitely incorporating them where appropriate, either from the designs I’ve already made (i.e. those on the computer) or from sources across the internet. I’m not big on hand-illustration, honestly, because my artist’s skills suck, just like my penmanship (why I’m digitizing all this in the first place).

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