By Sarah Thompson, November 2010
Techniques of evocation, invocation and of possessory work are rarely talked or written about openly. This no doubt stems from the general prevailing squeamishness against such workings — they are real magick, the sort of thing usually advised only to be undertaken by the most advanced practitioners after years of study, and at considerable personal risk.
The first thing I’ll say about this is that the biggest problem here is fear itself. If you fear these techniques, and consequently never try them, you are sealing yourself off from a significant opportunity for spiritual growth. Though evocation, invocation and particularly possession all have the potential to be life changing, it is not necessary to fear them in and of itself, and indeed, embarking upon this kind of working with fear in your heart has its own dangers.
All are Spirit
Before looking at specific techniques, a little time spent in consideration of what (or who) it is that we are attempting contact with is in order. My own personal take on this is that everything, everyone, you can contact can be regarded as some kind of spirit, whether it happens to be a deity, daemon, dead or angel. Though some may regard it as sacrilegious to lump those entities together, it is nevertheless the case that the same techniques can be applied to all classes of noncorporeal spiritual beings. They are not, however, by any means all the same. An Enochian angel is very, very different to a classic witches deity, just as a daemon of the Goetia is very different to the spirit of an ancestor. Yet, the same techniques can be applied to any category of spirit, with some techniques being more appropriate than others in individual cases.
A gentle warning or two
Many classic texts on evocation, as well as some modern commentaries, advocate an approach of threatening spirits to appear in a triangle, and then threatening them with annihilation unless your bidding is done. My best advice is: don’t do this. If you are a mean-spirited asshole in the way that you deal with a spirit, don’t be surprised if they kick that particular asshole in return. They have been doing this far longer than you, they are almost certainly more powerful than you, and they deserve respect.
On the flip side of this, it is equally inappropriate on achieving contact with a spirit to throw your lot in with them in the manner of Dracula’s sidekick Rennfield. Really, don’t do this. If a spirit demands absolute obedience from you, or requires you to abnegate your moral compass, do not work with them. There are plenty of other spirits, you don’t need that in your life.
If you meet a spirit on another plane during a trance journey, don’t accept food or drink from them, and absolutely do not make love with them. Such acts have magickal consequences that go far beyond the immediate.
Above all, remember that you are the person in charge of any spiritual contacts that you make. You have the right and obligation to set limits, and it is worth remembering that almost all spirits will honour those agreements.
Kinds of Spirit
Spirits can be great teachers, if you ask them nicely. I once asked a spirit for instruction on the kinds of spirit out there, and was told that you can visualise this effectively as follows. There is a golden wall between our world and theirs. The spirits that dwell closest to that wall understand us best, just as it is that those of us that dwell closest to that wall understand them best, and are best able to make contact. Close to the wall, we find spirits that are commonly described as deities — they are closest to us, they understand us best, and they interact with us in the most humanlike ways. Yet, they are not human. They have their own agendas, their own hopes, their own aspirations. Almost universally, they are interested to talk to us and be part of our lives, just as we are drawn to contact with them.
Spirits that dwell farther from the wall are more difficult to contact, and they understand us less well. The further from the wall you interact, the more implicit risk that exists, not so much due to the possibility of malice, but more likely simple misunderstanding. The Enochian angels are very far from the wall, and are really nothing like us. The Hebrew angels are closer, but are still rather aloof and can tend to take things very literally. The daemons of the Goetia, surprisingly, are relatively close to the wall, understand us well, and are actually relatively easy to deal with.
Evocation, literally, means to bring forth a spirit outside oneself, classically into an idol or into a triangle, so that it can be interacted with relatively safely. Typically, the witch or magician remains within a nine foot circle and evokes the spirit into a smaller triangle placed outside the circle, and binds the spirit to do their bidding. The classic texts such as the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum and the Lemegeton tend toward advising an approach of calling forth the spirit fearfully, with all kinds of threats and tortures. As mentioned above, this is neither actually necessary or appropriate for nearly all spirits, though it can be effective to use a circle and a triangle when calling up a daemon for the first time — they seem to appreciate the fact that you’re observing the traditional forms, and don’t seem to mind being confined to a triangle at all.
Most magickal texts at this point will list pages of detailed ritual script, complete with lists of barbarous names to be recited. I won’t do that, because the best evocations are done in your own words. Call up the spirit into whatever it is that you intend to call it up into, in your own words, but mean it. If you find a script helpful, feel free to use one, but write it yourself. Do not be fearful of mispronouncing a name, or getting the evocation slightly wrong, because it is the intent, not the detail, that actually matters. Everything else is the art of performing the ritual, which is something that always improves with practice.
Calling up a spirit requires its name, though names can actually take many forms. The name of a spirit is really more like an address within spirit-space, or a radio frequency, if you like. Spirits are not all distinct individuals — in many cases they overlap with each other, and may present different aspects depending on how you call them. Sometimes those aspects have literal names, sometimes not, and again, it’s the intent that counts. The name of a spirit might be a literal name, Cerridwen, Cernunnos, Ishtar, Buer, Melek Ta’us, etc., or it might be a seal, or even a perfume, a particular magickal tool, or some combination of the above and more. It’s always hardest the first time that contact is made, so it can be greatly beneficial to get an introduction from someone (corporeal or otherwise) who already has a connection with the spirit. Without that, studying as much as you can about the spirit, reading their stories, looking at their devotional art, researching their many names, obtaining their seals and sigils, all helps strengthen the connection. Once you’ve made connection, it’s generally not necessary to do anything complicated to remake the connection — usually I find that no ceremony or special preparation whatsoever is needed.
Evocation is most commonly used when we wish to communicate with a spirit, but wish to keep clear boundaries between ourselves and it — effectively, it states clearly that possessory phenomena or anything leading to them is not being asked for and will not be allowed. It is important to hold this intent clearly when performing the evocation and also during the contact.
Invocation is essentially similar to evocation, with the distinction that our intent in invocation is to allow the spirit closer access. If we are using a 9-foot circle, then an invocation brings the spirit into the circle with us. Normally, invocation is fine whenever you’re OK with getting cosy with the spirit, and when you don’t mind having it being part of your life. I generally am a little careful about this until I get to know a spirit, but once I do I generally don’t bother with evocation. Invocation is generally easier than evocation, and results in contacts that are easier to work and more direct — there is a better signal to noise ratio, if you like.
A classic witchcraft approach is to banish the working space to clear uninvited influences, then cast a circle, and then specifically call one or more spirits (usually deities) to assist in the rite, regardless of whether there is an intention to communicate directly with them.
Possessory phenomena are generally talked about in hushed tones, or not at all. From experience, they are quite real, far more accessible and far less dangerous than usually supposed, though they really can result in profound internal change.
In practice, possession is one point on a continuum of levels of spirit contact, albeit one that is fairly far out. For myself, I have generally found that possessory phenomena tend to happen when I’m providing a link to a spirit for someone else — simply calling up a spirit for a solo chat doesn’t generally result in going there, unless I specifically push for that. The first level of possession, then, is the basic contact that is made in invocation and that allows communication. When that communication is being made on behalf of someone else, there is a tendency to ‘reach further’ for the contact, which strengthens the connection. I often then find myself shifting from speaking for the spirit (acting as spiritual AT&T, if you like), to speaking as the spirit. As that connection strengthens, my sense of self tends to be moved to one side. Sometimes, the connection isn’t too strong, and I retain a certain amount of control. In others, I am generally aware of what is going on (it seems realer than real, in some sense), and though I feel that I ‘could’ take back control if I wanted, in practice that doesn’t happen. I rarely retain detailed memories of a possession after the fact — if I’m specifically reminded of some of the conversation I’ll remember it, but detailed memory usually evaporates within a few minutes. Having someone scribe for you is very useful — make notes, because it is possible to receive some extraordinary insights.
Possession, like spirit contact generally, isn’t something that can readily be taught, but the experience has enough commonality that there do seem to be generally applicable techniques. One thing that’s worth noting is that it can be pretty difficult to end a possession from the inside — sometimes it takes someone else calling you back. Different traditions have different approaches to this, but I think the simplest is to call someone’s name repeatedly, particularly their secret magickal name if they have one, until the point that they are responsive, and then tell them to tell you their name repeatedly until you actually believe them. Other commonly used techniques involve covering their head with a white cloth, then withdrawing it quickly. My best advice, if a swift return to normality is necessary, is to do something mundane, like watching a cheesy movie, doing the washing up, reading a newspaper, etc., with the intent being to distract oneself in such a way that the connection is ended gently.