The ancient Egyptian deity Set has an interesting biography. Early on, he played an important role, defending the solar deity against chaos, ruling the desert, and being married into the divine family. In later myths, he is portrayed in less favorable terms, as a brother-slayer, a trickster, in conflict with his family, a sexual predator, subject to the judgement of the gods. Not unlike the Norse deity Loki, he becomes pregnant and gives birth (to a golden disc). In his conflict with Horus, he both mutilates his opponent and is castrated. In historical terms, he becomes patron deity of the foreign Hyksos dynasty, associating him with foreigners once and for all. While this did not hurt his reputation initially, after Egypt was ruled by several foreign powers (Assyria, Persia, Greece), he was demonized. His cult persisted in ancient times regardless of all these setbacks, and there are some modern-time followers.
The Set Working
It was one of these modern-time devotees who led a ritual I attended, during which I had a brief vision of a hunched figure with large ears beckoning me to follow behind, through a boulder-strewn landscape of dry earth under a starry night sky – something straight out of some modernist poem. Nothing else became apparent during the ceremony, however.
Not long afterwards, I found my thoughts circling around this short scrap of a vision. I queried two trusted divination systems about Set’s plans, and received “The Earth”, and “All the Dead”: obvious references to the long-disused graveyard in the vicinity. In Egyptian mythology, Set was the Lord of the Black Soil (i.e. the desert, where the dead live), so this was a fitting place for a follow-up meeting with him.
When I arrived at the former cemetery, which nowadays is a park with some tall trees in it, it was late night. I had brought some beer as an offering – after all, beer was an Egyptian invention – and poured a generous libation, after announcing my presence to Set. There was a niche in the old cemetery wall, with steps leading up to it, which I sat on, sharing my beer with the old Egyptian deity, and expecting to learn what this special invitation was all about.
“Look out through the slit in the wall”, was the message I got. “What do you see?” I reported on the occasional passing car, the nighttime view of the town, light and shadows, and so on, to the god’s satisfaction. When the beer was used up, I felt more offerings were in order, and I fetched some fruit and a hot, sweet cup of coffee to brighten up the night, and maybe receive some more concrete results from the meeting. Set was still there when I returned, and graciously accepted some sugar-laden beverage. Then, on an impulse, and because no more divine favors seemed to be forthcoming, I tossed a piece of banana out through the slit in the wall. Set lunged after it and I was alone again.
Insights Gained from the Set Working
Then some insights came pouring in, or rather, surfaced into my angry, slightly drunk consciousness.
Set is a mongrel mutt. Even the ancient representations are unclear as to what kind of animal stood model for his images. Egyptologists refer to a “Set animal”, which could be anything from an Aardvark to a donkey or a jackal – or even a giraffe, judging from Set’s rectangular ears.
Moreover, he is a street mutt, who will bum offerings off anyone he can. And he is successful! After over a millennium since the pagan temples were closed, he is still around, he even has a priesthood of acolytes who keep the offerings coming. A smart mutt! A trickster mutt. He will do the crazy wisdom teacher act, the guru act, for any favor he can get. You will be invited to the special secret cemetery to receive deep teachings, remember to bring beer!
An hubristic title for this piece, which should really be called “Boffo’s Modest Contribution To The Already Extensive Literature On Sigil Magick.” Or “Stuff You Might Like To Have A Think About In Case It All Goes To Shit.” Or just “Think On, Pal.” You get the idea.
There is material on working with sigils throughout the literature on Chaos Magick. If you need good guides to the fundamentals before reading further, you could go to Chaos Matrix or Rune Soup or Disinfo. They’re all useful.
If you’re not too daft about your aims, sigil magick works. Therein lies both encouragement and warning.
Here are mine: I do not encourage you to practise magick of any sort, and expressly warn you against it. For so it is written: speak not of magick, Clodhopper, and delve not into the arcane arts, for weird shit happens and you will lose your grip on consensus reality. You are hacking your software and overclocking your hardware. It is entirely possible that you will brick yourself, and there is no factory reset. There is only onwards, or a pretence that that weird stuff never happened, or wasn’t in fact weird at all. Which only ever partially works.
But because your old pal Boffo has been about a bit and knows a few things about the ways of people, he knows that’s not going to stop you, is it, incorrigible rogue? So back to the encouragement and warning. It is extremely encouraging how well sigil magick works and it’s as well to be warned about a few things.
How it works is open to discussion. Let me say a little about two frames for understanding (but you could otherwise go quantum, information systems etc.).
“Spirit” magick might involve calling on the deity or spirit relevant to the task, working out the correct correspondences (planetary hour, temple decoration etc.), evoking/invoking the aforementioned deity and winging your desire off into the cosmos to hatch and come to fruition with that deity’s help.
A psychological account of magick might argue that no supernatural forces are at work, and that even when shit gets really weird we are working with equipment which is wholly ours. So on that account in the case of sigil magick we are firing our desire not into the cosmos but into our own unconscious, our deep mind. And indeed, there is evidence suggesting that when we inject into the unconscious something towards which we are motivated, we expand the probability of its occurrence when we are able to drop conscious censoring (Verwijmeren et al, 2011). So on the psychological account you can arguably use a stripped-down, bare bones methods of sigil charging and not involve any deities at all and the sigil will work just as well.
But of course these accounts are not exclusive or incompatible. You might believe in the ontological reality of your favourite god/goddess. You might not. When Gabriel and I evoked Thor and got the only roll of thunder that evening at the conclusion of the working, that’s a good moment whether or not you believe in the objective existence of the Norse pantheon (when we nearly wet our pants while evoking spirits of place out in the woods at night, that was also a moment. Contrary to the reputation of a lot of chaos magicians, we banished properly that night).
Just as the presence of a helping relationship seems to potentiate a rich array of placebo responses (Czerniak et al, 2016; Price et al, 2008), the theatre of magick, its setting and accoutrements, can potentiate the workings of the unconscious. And what’s “The Unconscious,” anyway? A linguistic device to encompass phenomena and experiences, and the way you define it (it’s all narrative, kids) will funnel your experiences of “unconscious” phenomena .
Thus you might believe that we can contact a divinity that is beyond us or you might believe that we have archetypal godforms within us, a capacity for an experience of the numinous into which tales of gods and goddesses fit like a key into a lock. For our purposes here it does not matter in terms of effectiveness, but the different beliefs will give your workings different hues. Choose your beliefs accordingly.
So we’re back to encouragement and warning. Be careful. If you evoke a godform or spirit to charge and launch a sigil, you are invoking that phenomenon into the deeper strata of your psyche. This might be a good thing if you have a commendable aim and have chosen your godform wisely.
These putative mechanisms are very good reasons not to use sigils for less than positive purposes or deploy in their creation entities whose attitude towards you is less than wholesome. Do not, for example, enlist a denizen of the Goetia to enslave someone to your sexual desires. If you are considering such workings, be aware that, apart from the ethical impoverishment of such actions, the process will pollute and debase you even further than you have already become polluted and debased in wanting to bring about such effects. Put simply, do not be a shoddy creep. Entreating a powerful goddess, who has the erotic flavour for which you aim, to help you develop an erotic allure more generally, might be more the ticket.
Further, because mechanisms are unclear and possibly variable, formulate your intent as tightly as possible. If your intent prior to sigilisation is “It is my will to have a penis as large as a horse,” you are opening up a world of potentially unwelcome possibilities. You might land an appendage which makes you the talk of the gym locker room, but that might be because it’s swollen to equine dimensions after dropping a dumbbell on it. Remember also, insatiable wretch, that there are ways to have a penis as large as a horse that the phrase “eye-watering” will not encompass. Am I making myself clear about formulation of intent (cf. Gabriel’s previous post on the monkey’s paw effect)?
You are limited only by your imagination and any risk assessments you do. Get your ethics and your formulations sorted out and it’s playtime.
Czerniak, E., Biegon, A., Ziv, A., Karnieli-Miller, O., Weiser, M., Alon, U., Citron, A. (2016) Manipulating the Placebo Response in Experimental Pain by Altering Doctor’s Performance Style. Frontiers in Psychology. 7: 874, 1-10. Retrieved at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4928147/pdf/fpsyg-07-00874.pdf
Price et al (2008) A Comprehensive Review of the Placebo Effect: Recent Advances and Current Thought. Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 59:565-590.
Thijs Verwijmeren, Johan Karremans, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Daniel Wigboldus (2011) The workings and limitations of subliminal advertising: The role of habits. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 21, Issue 2, 206–213
Jung understood the rise of Nazism in terms of the emergence of an archetype: the god Wotan (Jung 1970).
At a seminar where this was discussed a skeptical participant enquired, “If Wotan was responsible then where was he?”
“He was simply in the air at that time, in the landscape, the rivers, the trees,” another participant answered.
“But the trees and rivers didn’t join the Nazi party,” the skeptic rejoined.
The skeptic’s error is to suppose that archetypes provide a causal explanation. Of course, they do not. But they may illuminate the reasons for events, because whereas causes reside in material reality, reasons lie within the reality of human understanding.
What can offer a more convenient means for apprehending huge-scale shifts in behaviours and attitudes than the notion of a god? So in this sense, I propose, we are in the grip of an archetype at least as strong and malevolent as Wotan. Presently we are governed by the acolytes and ideology of Cronos, that baleful deity who passes also by the name Saturn, and his associated images of Old Father Time and the Grim Reaper.
Cronos was the son of the first god, Uranus, himself the son of Chaos and Mother Earth. The first distinctive act of Cronos was to depose his father by castrating him. Yet after assuming power it was prophesied that Cronos would also be deposed by his son. To maintain his position, Cronos ate his children as soon as they were born. The tactic served him well until the birth of Zeus, for whom a stone was substituted that Cronos unwittingly ate instead. Zeus was raised in secret and, when fully grown, administered a potion to Cronos that made him vomit up all the brothers and sisters he had swallowed.
Perhaps there is a specific prophecy in the version of the myth penned by Robert Graves, wherein Cronos and his supporters are “banished to a British island in the farthest west” (Graves 1992: 40). The enduring presence of Cronos in this part of the world might account (non-causally) for why we live in times of such acute anxiety regarding those who prey upon children.
Prominent politicians and figures in the entertainment industry have been exposed as prolific abusers of children. We are tormented by a suspicion that this abuse could be endemic, perhaps institutionalised within the highest strata of our society. Yet the serial resignations of the Chairs of the Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (2016), the non-government enquiry set up to investigate these claims, suggests also a curious powerlessness to expose the truth.
Additionally, our economy perpetuates exploitation of the young (Elliott 2016). They have lost the free access to education and stable employment enjoyed by older generations, who – whilst living ever longer – augment their share of wealth at the younger generation’s expense.
The distinguishing trait of Cronos is his grip on the present by retarding and denying both life and power to whatever might dare to succeed him. We see this attitude also in corporations that cling to profits even whilst cognizant of the harm they do, and even when in possession of means to act more benevolently. The manufacturers of excessively sugary foods are acolytes of Cronos. So too, the fracking industry, which clings to fossil-fuels, denying the ascendancy of renewable energy sources.
There is justification for conservation of the current good. Sustaining the present can provide stability and peace. But Cronos personifies how this slips into tyranny when the ruling order perpetuates itself purely on the basis that that is what it is. No longer is this conservation, but instead the prevention of the future from being born.
The gods interact with but transcend the psychological realm. The machinations of Cronos are visible in the economy, politics and culture. Yet Cronos is what he is, and is not any of the manifestations of himself. We cannot ask why Cronos is this way, because in the nature of a god is no gap, unlike the gap that intervenes in human experience between our consciousness and nature.
Cronos simply is, but for a human being to become his acolyte requires an alienation from nature, one that supplants the protection and honouring of our future and offspring with a desire to despoil, exploit and limit. Cronos is pervasive because he slips easily into the consensus. We assume there must be good reasons for things being the way they are. The way things are is what feels normal. But what if the reasons for normality are really not good ones at all? If only a few reap the full benefit from things the way they are, can that be a good reason? If not, then what is normal is irrational and sick. The myth of Cronos is the violence and madness that can come to underpin the semblance of normality.
The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas was the first to identify what he called ‘normotic’ illness, which “is typified by the numbing and eventual erasure of subjectivity in favour of a self that is conceived as a material object among other man-made products in the object world” (Bollas 1987: 135). Such a person is “someone who is abnormally normal. He is too stable, secure, comfortable and socially extrovert. He is fundamentally disinterested in subjective life” (136). The normotic personality “is alive in a world of meaningless plenty” (137).
The normotic is an acolyte of Cronos because his flight from nature, from his soul, is underpinned by the dominant discourse, materialism, which avers that we are exclusively physical organisms, separately adrift in a meaningless universe. This is considered a normal way of looking at life. But no one could give this idea credence, and it would not have required the acumen of Bollas to sniff out the normotic’s pathology, were it not for the fact that so many already believe in and shore up this view.
Cronos’s dead hand is evident also in Bollas’s account of how a normotic individual is created by a parent systematically disowning the subjective, imaginative nature of their child. Where this succeeds it is because both parties are disposed to becoming normotic, which causes Bollas to speculate whether “the child’s disposition to be emptied of self reflects his own death drive” (143). The death drive is a nebulous and controversial notion. An understanding of it might be gained from looking up the meaning of Saturn in western occultism (U∴D∴ 2005: 114) just as much as from reading Freud. But, in any case, Bollas describes how: “Parent and child organize a foreclosure of human mentality. They find a certain intimacy in shutting down life together” (143).
The creation of a normotic individual entails a type of abuse that hides its perversion behind a guise of normality. The normotic parent creates a normotic child by taking Cronos as a role model and consuming the child’s soul before that soul can be born. Bollas remarks how: “It is indeed striking how this [normotic] person seems to be unborn. It is as if the final stages of psychological birth were not achieved and one is left with a deficiency [… in] that originating subjectivity which informs our use of the symbolic” (140-1). Without either soul or the capacity to use symbols, the normotic becomes the antithesis of a practitioner of magick.
Sermons to the Unborn was a title that sprang fully-formed from the mind of Bonhomme. At the time it sounded right, but I feel I am only now beginning to understand why. Our sermons on this blog are addressed to the unborn, the acolytes of Cronos. And our impossible mission is to preach to those least equipped to hear.
Bollas, C. (1987). The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known. London: Free Association Books.