As I consider how I have made use of sigils, I have been trying to recall when I first came across chaos magic. It was probably sometime in the mid-1990s. I was living in Reno, coming out of high school and starting college, and had found a few magical bookstores to explore.
One of them was decidedly new age, wafting with incense, with a crystal-draped pyramid you could sit inside. The book selection ranged from texts on occult philosophy and into New Age self-help. The other was more pagan. You would find flyers for the local Dianic circle, books on witchcraft and magic, and try to avoid petting the cute pug that the owners warned “occasionally nipped.”
I think it was the latter where I found a copy of Phil Hine’s Condensed Chaos and later Frater U.D.’s Sigil Magic. I don’t think I owned any Peter Carroll until I was in grad achool, though I recall knowing a fair bit about Liber Null from Usenet and some webring trawling (ah, the days before Google).
I could have encountered it earlier, though, if I did, I don’t recall. While living around Atlanta before that (largely thanks to Oxford Used Books), I had accumulated some magical volumes, things like one volume of Denning and Phillips Foundations of High Magic, the Dover The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Sallie Ann Glassman’s NOVT with Louis Martinie’s accompanying book. Oh, and a handful of Llewellyn’s cheap paperbacks, ranging from the D. J. Conway to Amber K to Edred Thorsson. With the exception of the NOVT, though, I don’t remember using any of that stuff much.
Chaos magic was a different story. I was poor and young, had no idea how I would go about undertaking most of the magical operations I read about, but chaos magic gave me the permission to just dive in, catch as catch can, with paper and pen. For bonus points, I had been working on meditation and reading psychoanalysis, so the manipulation of attention accompanying sigil work seemed a natural extension of that.
I can’t remember the last time I used a proper sigil to achieve magical goals a la “I will that…,” but I don’t work with many spirits that have established traditions, so when I sit down to focus, amplify, or ground my communication with them, basic sigil design comes in handy. I figure it might be useful to rattle some of those off.
The first one is simply letting my attention expand to meet the spirit and doodling signs while I do so until I can compose a coherent symbol to which the spirit responds. I will subsequently use that sign to divine more carefully after the nature of the spirit and how I might (or might not) work with it. Sometimes, I will divine beforehand as a means to approach the state of consciousness where the doodling becomes possible.
While I may divine both before and after this sort of drawing, I favor different methods for each. Since I am trying to get an affective sense of the spirit before drawing, I will often use Tarot cards. Afterward, as I am looking for a clearer understanding of it, I favor geomancy.
The second method I have used with vision work. I have had the most success with this just ‘sleeping’ in front of a shrine. I light a candle at my head, wear a blindfold that has been ritually prepared, apply ashes of bay (mixed with other ashes) to my eyes, and spend the night in front of the shrine on the floor. I put ‘sleeping’ in quotation marks because in my experience what unfolds is a chain of vivid, charged images received in a state that is neither quite sleepful nor wakeful.
The next morning, I write a brief chain of words down to capture the most vivid images of the evening and then proceed to compose a sigil from them. The visionary state relies on simple sensory deprivation tricks and can be attained without much more than a dark room, a hard floor, and a blindfold; you don’t necessarily need the blindfold, but it helps me to stop paying attention to my eyes. That said, the other elements (ash, ritual preparation, candle, shrine) do seem to guide and secure the state, making it less prone to random interference.