Proper Ritual Terminology

Recently, someone asked me about the differences between invoking, evoking, summoning, banishing, and all that jazz.  As a ceremonial magician, there’s a lot of different ritual I use depending on the need that can fall under different categories, each with a different label.  Then again, much of the ritual is fluid enough to defy categories or change between them with the use of a few different words.  So, let me clarify my stance (and only mine, I dunno how much others may agree with me on this) on the difference between the following words: invocation, evocation, conjuration, summoning, exorcism, banishment.  After all, I seem to be doing so well with clarifying my use of particular words, so why not?

Let me clarify first that much of the distinction drawn between these words is strictly a modern thing.  Traditional sources and grimoires from the medieval and Renaissance eras made no distinction between invoking and evoking, and used these terms interchangeably with conjuring and exorcising.  Because humanity likes to bin and classify everything endlessly, drawing the thickest lines between the smallest groups, and because we’ve inherited a knack for classification from our Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical forefathers, we insist on making these distinctions known.  In my practice, I tend to stick to the broadest, most applicable words used, mostly because these categories are strictly artificial and not always replicable in magical practice.  Ultimately, when working with the spirits, shit either gets done or it doesn’t.  This isn’t engineering where we can always follow the same procedures to obtain the same results, because magic doesn’t work like that, more often than not.

First, let’s talk about the high-level word “conjuration“.  It comes from Latin, literally meaning “swearing together”.  In a conjuration, one makes a pact, agreement, or oath with one or more spirits (or other brand of non-physical entity, that kind of classification can be talked about in a later post).  The oath taken can be just a simple request or a trade of services (you do/give X for me, I do/give Y for you), or something more complicated such as appearing physically in the name of some higher power.  In this sense, “conjuration” is the most general term to be used for any work with spirits.  A similar term is “adjuration“, or “swearing to”, often used to force a spirit to accomplish or do something.  This is a little more forceful and heavy-handed, and is often used in some of the more traditional Catholic or Solomonic rituals to really bind a spirit to the magician’s will.

Similar to conjuration, the word “exorcism” also means “binding by oath”.  It comes from Greek through Latin, originally meaning “to cause to swear”.  Even as late as the Renaissance period, this word was used in the same way as “conjuration” to refer to any ritual where one works with a spirit under some oath, pact, or agreement.  However, as most of these rituals were historically done to get rid of spirits, “exorcism” eventually picked up the meaning of “conjuration so as to banish”.  Since a lot of ritual texts from the Renaissance use “exorcism” and “conjuration” interchangeably, I also consider “exorcism” to be a very high-level broad term though with connotations or implications of getting rid of something.

Speaking of, let’s talk about what “banishment” is.  This is probably the most agreed-upon term of the bunch, and is also the only one of the bunch that has a Germanic origin instead of a Greek or Latin one.  “Banishment” is getting rid of spirits or other entities or energies, depending on your view of magic and models thereof.  Whether this is from one’s own personal sphere or internal world, or from one’s external surroundings and a given place, “banishment” gets rid of, clears out, and bars the entry of spirits into a particular area.  Simple enough, I think, though some people would align “exorcism” to be a kind of banishment; in these cases, “banishing” refers to cleansing one’s sphere and inner world, while “exorcism” is clean an external area or person.  This is certainly a modern meaning of the words, but are fairly interchangeable.

On the other hand, we have the words “summoning“, “invocation“, and “evocation” to refer to rituals that introduce or call up spirits in a particular area.  Of them, “summoning” is the broadest, and refers to calling on any spirit for a particular need; we summon them, they’re present, and then stuff gets done either with or without a charge or pact that would be signified with “conjuration”.  After that, we have “invocation” and “evocation” as two different kinds of summoning, or as synonyms for it.  Going by etymology, the former means “call in” while the latter means “call out”.  Still, more than any other set of terms, these were never seen as different in traditional texts.  I can’t stress this enough: any distinction that might be drawn between them is (as far as I’m aware) purely a modern thing.  Even if it’s a useful distinction for some people to make in theory, it’s ultimately not that big a deal or a difference in practice.

The difference lies in the use of the prefix “in-” versus “e(x)-“.  Some people might distinguish the difference in “invoke” versus “evoke”, especially in non-magical contexts, as a “calling upon a higher power for aid” versus a “calling forth or summoning”.  In magical settings, one might invoke a god for aid but evoke a spirit for a conjuration, perhaps invoking a god to swear by.  Alternatively, one might invoke a power to buff one’s sphere out or imbue oneself with the blessings of a particular spirit, but would evoke a spirit to accomplish things external to one’s sphere and body.  However, this isn’t always the case; the Roman notion of evocation was to call on the gods of an enemy city to abandon them and come to the side of the Romans for aid, which would normally fall under the notion of invoking enemy gods.  Similarly, the old myths have various instances of people invoking the gods for aid and then having the gods appear next to them or otherwise manifest for their external aid, which would often be considered evocation.  Depending on what one expects and one’s magical background, the same ritual might work to produce internal results, external results, or some combination of the two.  As a rule of thumb, one pulls power through an invocation and pulls out spirits through evocation, but this is still a very rough rule that has a lot of exceptions.

Like I mentioned, magical ritual can produce a wide variety of results; there is no laboratory setting or control group to measure effects against, and different people may perceive different effects resulting from the same act.  The old authors and magicians didn’t see much of a difference between many of the terms, and used yet others that we’ve largely forgotten or don’t like anymore (such as “karcist” from Fr.MC’s “Crossed Keys”, or to a lesser extent “exorcist” from any number of old grimoires that have a particularly strong Christian bent).  There are two primary ways of working with spirits: having them come to you in some way or having them leave you in some way.  The specific ritual in question might accomplish either of these aims in any number of ways, depending on tradition or philosophy, but that’s pretty much it.  These categories of ritual simply don’t hold up for any but the most rigidly defined and limited of magical practices, and don’t accomplish much on their own.  I feel like this is a debate for people who study magic more than practice it, anyway.

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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.

14 Responses to Proper Ritual Terminology

  1. Thank you for these definitions, and the link to the online etymology dictionary. Though i have studied and practiced (with a Thelemic bent) the Solomonic magickes i have never been much attracted to their Judeo-Christian dualistic system. You are instructed to stand in a circle (God and angels like circles and spirals) to Invoke him within your projected Sephiroth of archangels, and then, being safe, to Evoke within a triangle (demons seems to move in zigzag angular patterns) a being to command for some purpose or other, and then to Banish them. From a more modern Jungian (or even Vajrayana Buddhism) construct the fact is since everything is within you then the Invocation field becomes projected into an Evocation field and then reabsorbed. So demons are part of your Sephiroth from either the Qliphoth of Daath or from the astral beings in Yesod. But in practical magicke these elemental forces evoked do pull energies from the worlds both astral and physical outside us. Both viewpoints and magickal methods seem to work. But i think the Jungian/Vajrayana one to be less schizophrenic and and safer. Just some rambling thoughts…….

    • polyphanes says:

      Parts of that I agree with, and parts I don’t. Just some replies:

      Circles are used in Solomonic work for protection. Circles can either contain energies inside or isolate energies from the outside, and keep demons or other unwelcome spirits or interference from entering.

      Triangles are used in Solomonic work not because they move in zig-zag patterns (they move like how we do, but generally follow lines until they disappear or until they angle away) but because triangles help them manifest. Triangles are the first polygons that can be made with a minimum of points.

      I wouldn’t say that Vajrayana would have everything be within you; yes, everything is empty, but it’s not that everything reflects the whole. I’m unsure what you mean by “invocation field becomes projected into an evocation field and then reabsorbed”.

      Da`ath is not a qlippah, neither is Da`ath a sephirah. It’s an abyss, a place of neither-neither. Sephirah/qlippah is the singular, sephiroth/qlippoth is the plural; neither refer to an individual person, where the word “sphere” or “area” might be more appropriate. Sephirah means “number”, or more broadly “emanation”, as a development of reality from the unmanifest Source to manifest World. Qlippah means “husk”, referring to what’s left when the grace of God/Source is absent.

      Elemental forces are by definition not-astral. They’re related specifically to the sphere of Malkuth, everything physical and embodied. They might be spiritual, but not astral. Astral forces literally refer to celestial, “starry”, or higher-up ones, things that are in the sphere of the Moon or higher. We might use “etheric” or “spiritual” to refer to lower, non-physical forces, but “astral” is getting to be overused and misunderstood nowadays.

      • Very good! As a practical matter, I consider the Solomonic circle and triangle as a way of thinking about the distinction between evocation and invocation (except, of course, when I get them mixed up): if it’s something you would conjure to appear in the triangle, thus “out there,” it’s an evocation; if you invite something into the circle with you, it’s invocation. However, since you’re making a mental connection with whatever you evoke as well as what you invoke, it’s not a perfect distinction.

        Some of the other terms I just leave alone; I know I’m going to have to explain them anyway, which is how you know a term has lost most of its usefulness.

        Another one people trip over is theurgy (magical rites done to expand one’s awareness and elevate one’s spirit by invoking something) vs. thaumaturgy (ritual magic done for results). That distinction can get blurred, too.

      • Thanks for you reply and tutoring. I am not a trained Kabbalist (starting with K or C or Q with two B’s or two L’s) so my spelling of various words is incorrect at times. I learned most of my Da’ath and Q knowledge directly from Linda Falorio out in Pittsburgh who wrote The Shadow Tarot and worked with the Q a lot, manifesting them in tantra and then painting them. And of course i muddled through Kenneth Grant’s books back in the day. What i meant by “invocation field becomes projected into an evocation field and then reabsorbed” is how in Vajrayana one visualizes the deity within and then projects it into a mandala or other field or object and then reabsorbs it all in the end. Thanks again. 93

  2. Raul says:

    “banishing” refers to cleansing one’s sphere and inner world, while “exorcism” is clean an external area or person.

    Yes, either way magic can only deal with spirits where the church called ‘infestation’ (which is when the spirits have a place, and appear disturbingly) and “obsession” (which is attached to the aura) but when it is a possession … I’ve only seen that magic works in this case when exorcises a demon or jinn through another demon or jinn, which is what the sorcerers tend to do in the Middle East.
    Religions do not instead use psychic forces, but spiritual, rather than magic theurgy should talk about.

    • polyphanes says:

      Depending on the model, “psychic forces”, “spiritual forces”, and “magic theurgy” can all be the same thing viewed in different ways. Like I said, the above is just how I tend to define the stuff in my own work based on what I’ve read from the tradition I work with; YMMV.

      • Raul says:

        Totally true, understand definitions vary.
        Is that for my part I distinguish between the intermediate world where I place the magic and beings of this world, and theurgy that belongs to the spiritual world and its beings.

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