The Bookworm Is Scribbling: Sigils

Squiggly Spells
What are Sigils?

A sigil, as defined by Laura Tempest Zarkoff in her book Sigil Witchery, is a “carved, drawn, or painted symbol that is believed to have magical properties.” (Zarkoff 6) They are one of the “most efficient and economical disciplines of magic,” according to Frater U.D. in his book Practical Sigil Magic. What a sigil can look like is flexible and not at all tied to artistic ability but to intent as all magick is. In fact, there are multiple ways and traditions of sigil making including premade sigils like seals for Goetic demons, Thai sak yan tattoos, or making your own like in the pictorial and word-based methods we’re going to explore today.

The Word Based Method (based on Practical Sigil Magic)

Popularized by Chaos magicians, this method is based on the work of English painter and sorcerer Austin Osman Spare who called sigils the “monograms of thoughts.” (U.D. 5) The idea is to write down your intention as clearly as possible and implant it in your psyche. How do you do that?

First, you write down your desire as clearly as possible. More ritualistic practitioners will probably want to stick with Spare’s formula which starts “This is my wish to…” or the reverse “This is my wish not to…” Though some practitioners prefer to avoid negative language as they think it confuses the subconscious. Go with what feels right, but common practice holds its best to write in all caps. My example is based out of my desire to sleep better: THIS IS MY WISH TO SLEEP DEEPLY AND REFRESHINGLY.

The next step is to cross out all repeating letters. Some practitioners also like to cut out any vowels as well, but in this example, I left them in. After cutting out all repetition, I was left with M, W, O, A, F, and G. These are the letters you create your sigils with. Since W and M are very similar letters, however, it’s okay for me to treat them as the same letter and only use the shape once. 

Now, I combine them into a sigil that is as simple as possible for memorization purposes. “The artistic quality of the sigil is irrelevant, but for simple psychological reasons, it should be obvious that you should not just scribble or doodle it in haste. You should strive to make it to the best of your abilities.” (U.D. 15) So if it’s not super fancy, that’s fine–because we’re going to destroy it, but more on that later. 

Before that, however, you need to internalize it by activating or charging it. “This is the most difficult part in the process, and Spare offers only very few hints on practical procedures. However, it is crucial that the sigil is internalized in a trance of sorts.” (U.D. 15) The book suggests euphoria (yes, as in drugs. These are chaos magicians after all.), ecstasy (no, not MDMA, masturbation), or physical fatigue (standing in front of a mirror staring at yourself intently with your arms cross over your head is the example given). Personally, I found meditating on my phrase while staring at the sigil worked for me.

Then, yep, it’s time to destroy all our hard work. Burn it, wipe it out, bury it, whatever makes you happiest (and is safe). Why? Because in the Spare tradition, the sigil must be internalized to the subconscious to allow it to work.

The Pictorial Method (Sigil Witchery)

This is also a nothing fancy method, but it’s more image-based and involves creating your own language of symbols. What’s that? Well, it’s a way of translating ideas into pictograms such as circles, dots, squares, and crescent moons (it’s witchcraft after all). It’s also a very old method that Zarkoff traces back to cave paintings as animist spells for plentiful hunts. This is a very personalized system as one symbol may have vastly different meanings to different people. Zarkoff likens it to the way people scribble their signatures, turning their names from letters to a personal symbol.

The process of creating a pictorial sigil is similar in many ways to the word method. You start with your goal and intention. This time, it’s better to translate your intent into ideas rather than a phrase. Let’s continue with my sleep aid spell (I can use all the help I can get). The ideas I’m using are sleep, anti-stress, calm mind, restful, and fall asleep easier.

I based this partially on an anti-anxiety sigil Zarkoff created for a client. Hers featured an upturned eye with curled corners, an upturned crescent and an asterisk in a circle. I liked the asterisk in a circle as the idea of catching errant thoughts as well as the moon and the eye. However, I turned them downward to mimic the fall into sleep, adding some stars for night, and some dots to balance the piece out.

Now, we apply the piece. Zarkoff doesn’t subscribe to the destroy it ideology, calling it “overkill for most people” (Zarkoff 101) and argues instead, “Even if the sigil is often within your field of vision (on your desk, tattooed on your arm, on your mirror, etc.) it falls into the subliminal range of observation–meaning your eyes often look at it without you actually being aware you’re seeing it and consciously thinking about it. This subtle exposure to symbols can make for some pretty effective workings, considering that’s the same way a lot of advertising works!” (Zarkoff 101)

Basically, find a visible place to put it and make it pretty and permanent in an intentional manner, though Zarkoff says putting it on a sticky note in your wallet is totally fine too. Personally, I culled some cardboard from a box and used some of my acrylic paints to formalize it and keep it by my bed.

Now, those are far from all the methods of sigil making but they’re some I’ve tried and are familiar with. I hope to experiment with them further and would love to see any sigils or hear any stories of sigil use you have.

Exploring Further

On Topic

Practical Sigil Magic by Frater U.D.– A good basic primer in the Spare method as well as the mantrical method, the alphabet of desire, and planetary cameas.

Sigil Witchery by Laura Tempest Zarkoff– Another great primer in the pictorial, more witchcraft based method. Zarkoff is an artist as well so it is rife with gorgeous illustrations.

Sacred Tattoos of Thailand by Joe Cummings, photos by Dan White– A beautiful photo book with lots of great information on art and practice of sak yan, which is another form of sigil practice. For a more occult centered discussion, check out this Rune Soup episode.

Off Topic

Change is coming to the romance genre and authors are getting more outspoken about it. Romantic suspense bestseller Suzanne Brockman made a great speech at the Romance Writers of America conference about inclusivity and how white, cis, het romance has been the enforced norm and still often is. Escape Publishing managing editor Kate Cuthbert talked about romance in the time of the #MeToo movement at Romance Writers of Australia. 

How to Make White People Laugh by Negin Farsad– Negin Farsad is funny as hell on Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and if anything, she’s even funnier here. Her book is part memoir, part manifesto on improving race relations through humor.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy– In the style of The People of New York, this book shows the diversity of librarians and allows them and the authors they inspired to tell us how they are so much more than free books. (Not that I’m complaining about the free books, at all.)

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews– The first in a spin-off of the Kate Daniels series, this is the slow burn romance series of two magical psycho killers who are somehow really relatable and compelling.

The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills– Hills tackles the importance and prevalence of sex in our society. Not in a way that’s preachy or about trying to change how or how much people have sex, but rather how they talk, lie, and mythologize it.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star ed. by Jiz Lee– Into porn? Not into porn? Curious? Well here’s what it’s like to be a porn star, in the words of the people who have sex on camera for a living.

Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot– This is a brutal, short memoir about being a Native woman with mental illness. There are a shit ton of trigger warnings. It’s beautiful in the way I find Chuck Palahniuk’s writing beautiful: harsh, hard-edged, but affecting.

The next Bookworm will be out this weekend to my subscribers. In it, I’ll be exploring Samhain if you’d like to subscribe click here.

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