Recently, I was working with sigils (again). I was reviewing the methods used by modern Hoodoo practitioners to make Key of Solomon-style sigils. It’s fascinating stuff, but there are some elements that are shortcut. I’ll explore sigils here in an attempt to provide connections between several very deep topics.
I apologize in advance if something I write seems as if I’m being cursory. One could likely write a long book about all this. However, as this is only a blog, my goal is to show you the connections, so that you will better experience the wonder that I felt when all this began to become meaningful for me.
Mankind began with sounds, which he modulated in the mouth. That led to an attempt to make symbols to represent the sounds – as stated in the movie, The Dark Crystal, “words that stay.” Writing was born. Let’s explore speech and writing separately.
Since much of what comes down to us in the Western Mystery schools comes from the Kabbalah, we should start in the Ancient Near East. Kabbalah was highly influenced by Babylonian numerology and astrology, which was also influenced by ancient Hindu principles through trade routes. Kabbalah then lent its systems to Greece. A bit later, I’ll show a tiny bit how each of these cultures contributed.
Speaking is represented in myth as a very special and creative event. Yahweh created the universe by speaking it into being. The Memphite (Northern Egypt) creator, Ptah, created things by what was described as an act of the heart and the tongue. It’s important to note that the people of the ANE didn’t view ideas as living in the brain. Mummification (and warfare) gave people an understanding that there was an organ in the skull, but no one knew what it did. Thinking was done in the chest – in the heart – where ideas lived. So an action of the heart and the tongue was an action of generating an idea and then making it known to the world. This was such a powerful concept that it led to the esoteric idea that knowing the name of a thing could give you power over it. Certainly, it gave you the power of creating it, because until it was named, its creation process was not complete and so it was not a real thing. For this reason, Yahweh brought all of the animals to Adam to be named. Each of them needed an identity.
The Hindus have mantras. Mantras are phrases spoken over and over, perhaps thousands of times, to bring a desired change to your life by manifesting what is needed. Mantras are made up of “seed sounds.” These are the basic and core sounds used to form more complex words. Yet these sounds are not simply utterances. They are mystical vibrations that modulate the resonance of the universe to bring things into being. By speaking these seed sounds in the correct order, vibrations move out into the universe to bring about the desired changes. Often, these changes occur in the mind of the speaker.
But why does the power to create something give you power over it? To the mythic mind, creation and destruction are the same process. Raw materials are destroyed and remade as something else. What was mud or an elder tree became man. What was the body of a titan, became the land, sea and sky. To gain the power over a thing, you simply need to know what it is called. This is the reason secret societies (like witches in covens) have inner-circle names that are never shared. This is also the reason why divine names become magic words of power. (A completely acceptable charm is to write the name of a deity on paper, then fold it into a bundle to be tucked into a mojo bag or a fold in your clothing, to summon the powers of that deity.) Any word can be used as a magic word because it identifies an essence.
Many cultures believed, and so represented, the invention of writing as a sacred event, often telling tales of writing systems as gifts from their gods. Odin brought the runes to mankind; Thoth brought hieroglyphics. Because writing was a lasting representation of a sound, which was the word of power naming a thing, the glyph itself had the power of the sound. It was a representation of the very essence of the created thing.
Just as alchemy was the forerunner of chemistry, so numerology was the forerunner of mathematics. The Babylonians loved their numbers so much that they would actually use numbers to refer to their deities as a kind of short-hand honorific. For example, if the number that represented you was the number 123, I could simply refer to you in conversation like this, “123 and I had a great time in circle,” which would be a gesture of respect, because your number is your essence. Transmitted from the Babylonians throughout the ANE was the idea that the glyphs of sounds correspond to numbers.
Pythagoras was a clever Greek when he discovered music theory. Vibrations could be created by mathematically dividing a vibrating string. Interestingly, the vocal cords are simply vibrating strings that are similarly modulated like the stretched stings of a lyre. This shows a deep connection between mathematics and vibration; as such, every sound corresponded to a particular numerical value. If every sound has a glyph, and every sound also has a numerical value it means that every glyph has a value.
Because speaking, singing, writing, language and mathematics are not enough, let’s bring astronomy into this. The Magi of Babylon were expert astronomers as well as accomplished mathematicians. In the Babylonian sky were seven dominant heavenly bodies. Their gods ruled over sections of the sky and were embodied by the seven observable heavenly bodies, which were mathematically chartable. To state that they believed numerals to be divine was an understatement! The Babylonian custom used mathematical sums as a substitution for the names of their gods as a kind of respectful short hand. So numbers represented their gods, but also the planets.
They assigned a number to each of the planets based on its speed through the heavens. Saturn, the slowest planet observed, received the smallest number, 3, followed by Jupiter, Mars, The Sun, Venus, Mercury, and finally The Moon, which was the fastest body gaining the number 9. (Incidentally, this is also how the planetary hours are ordered in ceremonial magic charts. I have also seen some schools of thought that use this planetary rulership for the seven chakras.)
Each of the assigned numbers were used to create magic squares, or “kamea.” Kamea are traditional Babylonian and Kabbalistic grids that contain both rows and columns equal to the planetary number. In each block of the grid is placed every numeral from 1 through the square of the planetary number. For example, in the kamea of Saturn, there are 3 rows of 3 columns containing the digits 1 through 9 (32). The numerals are placed so that every row and column, as well as the major diagonals, have the same sum. In the case of Saturn, each row and column has the sum of 15. However, there are many different ways to arrange the numerals in the kamea to still accomplish the uniform sum. So there are traditional arrangements of the digits that have been passed down. Below are the traditional kamea of all the planets.
The idea that names held power permeated the Kabbalah, which was used to compose some of the most famous source books for magical systems in the world, The Keys of Solomon. Anyone who has ever opened a cover of these books knows they are filled with Solomon’s “seals.” These seals are simply arrangements of sigils creating designs that can be inscribed on metals to create charms. Often, the charms are purported to allow the holder to gain power over certain spirits or intelligences. The designs accomplish this because they contain the names of these spirits and intelligences represented as glyphs. The method for creating these glyphs uses sound and numerology to create a written symbol of power.
In Kabbalah, each of the planetary intelligences and spirits have a name made up of a string of sounds, just like your own name. Their name is their word of power. Each spirit is associated with a ruling planet, which has a kamea. If we convert the sounds in the name into numbers, then connect the numbers using the correct kamea, we create a glyph for each name that magically represents each spirit.
Observing just a few standards, you can use the same method to make a sigil of your own name, or of any other word that is powerful to you. Contemporary Hoodoo uses an adaptation of this method. It is an easy method, but it does deviate from the Kabbalist method just a bit. I’ll describe the Kabbalist method used above a bit later.
For the hoodoo method, use the following table to convert all the letters in your name to numbers.
Now choose the kamea that rules over your natal zodiac.
Now simply draw lines to connect the numerals in the kamea in the order of the name. Here are the drawing standards that seem apparent to me based on the sigils in the Keys of Solomon. First, no line should ever be back-traced, which means that every time you visit a block, you should use a unique line. It also means that when returning to a block that already has a line-stop, you should stop at some other place in that block. Second, double numbers should have a small wave or bump to show that the block was marked twice (or more). Finally, the first numeral should be marked with a small circle.
Despite the rules, you can flex your creativity a bit. It appears acceptable for the stops in each block to be rounded rather than sharp points, or to go from block to block using arcs, rather than straight lines, so long as the arcs are consistent. The last numeral can be marked in many ways, such as with a final circle, a small perpendicular line, a wave, a chevron, or simply stopping. The sigil is your creation and it carries the power you put into it.
You can also build sigils for other words that are powerful to you, such as “health” or “money.” You would simply use the kamea appropriate for those purposes. These are the accepted hoodoo associations of each of the planets.
Sun: Health, vitality, ego, power, success, advancement, leadership, and growth
Moon: Clairvoyance, sleep, emotions, astral travel, imagination, women, birth, and reincarnation
Mars: Male sexuality, strength, lust, anger, destruction, medical issues
Mercury: Communication, intellect, writing, contracts, information, wisdom, science, memory
Jupiter: Success, abundance, money, growth, gambling
Venus: Love, pleasure, female sexuality, arts, music, beauty, luxury, social affairs
Saturn: Real estate, banks, debt, obstacles, binding, knowledge, time, discipline
If you are feeling a bit nefarious, you can also build a sigil to represent another person to gain power over them.
The difference between the hoodoo version and the Kabbalistic version is that the latter relies on sound, rather than just letters. Rather than the names being converted based on the letters used to write the name, they are converted based on the sounds that are used to construct their utterance. The values of each sound can be found in the following table (Mathers, 3). Note that the values for the sounds k, m and n differ when they are final sounds than when they are elsewhere in the word. For the sound made by w, use v. There is no letter e. Short vowels are generally ignored, which leaves the sound created by an e represented by either the long a or the long i, depending on which sounds closer.
Also note that there are values that are too large for some kamea. In that case, simply drop zeroes until the number fits. For example, the name “Tom” would be a strong T (9), then O (70 or 7), then a final M (600 or 60 or 6, not 40). The name “Steve” would be S (60 or 6), a strong T (9), a long ee sound, represented by the I, Y (10 or 1), then a V (6). The final vowel is silent.
Oddly, the numerology table used in hoodoo is the one also used in so-called “Pythagorean numerology.” This is an odd name to me because the Greeks had an alphabet of sounds, just as in Kabbalah and were big fans of assigning numbers to the sounds made by their alphabet. This was a very popular process called Isopsephy and was used even for very mundane affairs. They did not have letters that made multiple sounds as we do in English. It seems to me that the best Pythagorean numerology table would be based on sounds and would use the original isopsephographic values that the Greeks used so often. That translated table would look like this.
The value for each row in the table increases by a factor of 10. So G is worth 3 and L is worth 30, while T is worth 300.
Whether you use the Hebrew, the Isopsephy or the “numerology” table to assign values, you now have all you need to move forward in sigil magic.
For more information on the numerology of the Babylonians, investigate Trail of the Serpent by Christian writer, Murl Vance.
Mathers, S. L. Mac Gregor. The Kabbalah Unveiled. Theosophical Publishing Co., New York. 1912.
If you have any interest in diving into a more mathematical look at the kameas, feel free to look at my next entry, found here.
If you have any interest in diving into a more mathematical look at the kameas, feel free to look at my next entry, found here.