Invocation of Deity

Web essay 2001

Of late I have been reading the writings of Thelemic women, on mailing lists and in print, on the subject of invoking deity, specifically Nuit and Babalon. As I am a student of this particular technique I thought it might be useful for me to jot down some notes on this subject.

There are well-established Western magickal techniques for invoking deity both alone and with a partner. Golden Dawn initiators imagined themselves as deity when conducting initiations; Aleister Crowley wrote instructions for solitary invocation; the Aurum Solis Ceremonial system includes an invocation working; and Alexandrian Witchcraft, which owes some of its ritual to Ceremonial, has a procedure for priest and priestess to invoke deity on each other. These techniques are all published and are lineally connected.

Ceremonial Magickal Invocation

The Golden Dawn is earliest in the chain. I am working from my copy of Israel Regardie’s book The Golden Dawn, the 1982 edition. In Book 4, the paper “Z.3, The Symbolism of the Admission of the Candidate”, the officers are instructed to “remember what tremendous Gods and Goddesses they represent–the Divine Forces of the Eternal in the administration of the Universe.”

The instructions get a little more detailed, but rather more poetic than descriptive: “Thus should he act. Let him remember what particular God he represents. Exalting his mind unto the contemplation thereof, let him think of himself as a vast figure, standing or moving in the likeness of that God, colossal, his head lost in the clouds, with the light flashing round it from the head-dress of the God–his feet resting upon Earth in darkness, thunder and rolling clouds, and his form wrapped in flashes of lightning–the while vibrating the Name of the God.”

In Magick in Theory and Practice, published in 1929 (my edition is a 1972 reprint), Golden Dawn initiate Aleister Crowley expanded on this instruction. In chapter XV, “Of the invocation”, he listed three methods of achieving an invocation: first, by forming an astral body, rising on the planes, and rising to the particular symbol of the deity invoked; second, by reciting a mantra for the deity; and third, by “assumption of the form of the God–by transmuting the astral body into His shape”.

Crowley stressed the power of emotion and spiritual dedication in invocation: “Every Magician must compose his ceremony in such a manner as to produce a dramatic climax. At the moment when the excitement becomes ungovernable, when the whole conscious being of the Magician undergoes a spiritual spasm, at that moment must he utter the supreme adjuration.”

Crowley also suggested that delaying the invocation could increase its power. “One very effective method is to stop short, by a supreme effort of will, again and again, on the very brink of that spasm, until a time arrives when the idea of exercising that will fails to occur…In blinding light, amid the roar of ten thousand thunders, the Union of God and man is consummated.” This technique is similar to that of delaying sexual orgasm, and works in the same way, to build energy until its discharge is inevitable and very very strong.

The Aurum Solis procedure is very similar to this in spirit. In Book V., Mysteria Magica, Melitta Denning and Osborne Phillips describe a working called “Identifying with God-Forces”. Echoing Crowley, they say, “…the student should postpone the final phase as long as he can…while the power of the god, at once radiant and magnetic, encompasses him and draws him strongly and yet more strongly, onward irresistibly.”

The Aurum Solis technique is more detailed in its instructions. Step one is to study the deity, in the context of its pantheon and in the context of the Qabalah. Step two is to make a shrine to the deity, offer the deity its traditional forms of worship, and offer the deity new forms of worship. Step three is to begin to assume the god-form of the deity. Step four has occurred when the student develops “an awareness, which is a completely objective certainty, of the numinous power of his deity.” Step five, to take place either at the shrine the student has made or at an historical site of the deity’s worship, is to invoke the deity.

The Aurum Solis invocation involves a specific procedure: while standing, visualize the chakra above the head as being a white pulsing sphere; exhale and vibrate the deity name; inhale and visualize light descending from the sphere to the heart chakra, where it expands into a golden sphere; exhale and vibrate the deity name again; inhale and visualize light descending from the heart center to the space between the feet, where it expands into a white sphere; exhale and vibrate the deity name; assume the god-form.

These three Ceremonial systems–the Golden Dawn, Thelema, and the Aurum Solis–all involve the magician invoking the deity with his or her own power. The Golden Dawn instructions occur in the context of working with a group of other people, who are also Gods and Goddesses, in an initiation rite. The Thelemic and Aurum Solis instructions are intended for the student’s personal spiritual development.

Wiccan Invocation

Alexandrian Witches Janet and Stewart Farrar have published the Alexandrian Book of Shadows, as well as useful notes on the customs and practices of traditional Witchcraft. In their books they cite their source material, comparing three handwritten versions of the book to arrive at their version. They also acknowledge the debt these books owe to Ceremonial texts–for example, marking pages which are drawn directly from the Mathers translation of the Greater Key of Solomon.

The Farrars describe two invocation rites which are gender-based. In one, a priest invokes the Goddess into a priestess; this is derived directly from the traditional books. In the second, a priestess invokes the God into a priest, and is a more recent addition to the traditional material.

During sabbats and initiation rites, the Wiccan circle casting includes the invocation of the Goddess upon the priestess, in a rite called Drawing Down the Moon. The Farrars describe a version of this in Eight Sabbats for Witches (I am working from the 1980 edition), pages 40-42. The priestess takes up a position in front of the altar; the Farrars describe her as holding her hands crossed in front of her breasts in the Osiris position. The priest gives her the Fivefold kiss, kneeling to kiss her on the feet, knees, womb, breasts and lips. When the priest kisses her womb, the priestess opens her arms in a blessing position. (Womb is not a polite term here for vulva; womb means womb–what is being honored is the procreative ability). While he is kissing her, the priest recites a traditional prayer, blessing each of her body parts.

At the conclusion of the kiss, the priest recites an invocation to deity: “I invoke thee and call upon thee, Mighty Mother of us all, bringer of all fruitfulness: by seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, by life and love do I invoke thee to descend upon the body of this thy servant and priestess.” The priest touches her breasts and womb as he recites this prayer. When it is finished he kneels to her and recites another prayer adoring the Goddess. The priestess responds by reciting the Charge of the Goddess, a lengthy Wiccan prayer in which the Goddess addresses her worshippers and instructs them in her worship.

In The Witches’ Way, the Farrars describe a second rite, which they call Drawing Down the Sun. It happens immediately following Drawing Down the Moon. The priest and priestess change places. The priestess then gives the priest the Fivefold Kiss, kneels, and recites a prayer beginning “Deep calls on height, the Goddess on the God”, and ends, “Descend, I pray thee, in thy servant and priest.” He responds by saying: “Let there be light!”

These invocations are practiced in the context of group workings. The priest and priestess embody the God and Goddess to the other coveners present in the circle. They may act out a ritual of the season, or go on to do an initiation.

Notes on my own experience

As I think about it, a surprising percentage of my magickal practice has involved invocation of deity. It’s partly because the invocation of deity is a very popular Wiccan practice; in some covens it happens every six weeks. It’s partly because I got involved in organizing Pagan festivals. I suppose it’s also partly due to personal prediliction: I have learned a great deal from invocation, and the energy charge is second to none.

Let me talk first about Wiccan invocation. I have only seen the exact Alexandrian process which the Farrars have documented when I attended Alexandrian circles, but I have seen adaptations of the process in quite a number of Wiccan circles. The kiss is often dropped; the priest and priestess make the gestures that occur to them. The specific prayer may differ, especially if the deities invoked are not the God and Goddess of Wicca, Aradia and Cernunnos.

The priestess sometimes wears a crown with a crescent moon on it, and sometimes takes it off when she has decided to stop embodying the Goddess. Similarly the priest may use a ritual crown, usually the horns of a stag, to mark when he is possessed by the God and when he is not.

I have a note here about the Osiris position, crossing the arms over the chest. This closes the aura against possession by the deity. I was once in a public circle with a Gardnerian priest and friend. We were evoking the presence of deity to circle with no intent to be possessed by the deity. His prayer was so ardent, though, that I felt the presence of the Goddess, and to prevent myself from automatically dropping into possession, I instinctively crossed my arms on my chest; and when I made my prayer, he crossed his!

In some covens the priest and priestess engage in the ritual called the Great Rite: they invoke the God and Goddess and make love, especially at Beltane (May Day). Their mating ensures the fertility of the land and brings energy to the coven. Usually they do so privately, sometimes by cutting the circle so the coveners can leave and come back when the rite is complete.

Some Wiccan practitioners have been influenced by exposure to the religion of Voudon, which has a very rich and culturally specific tradition of possession by deity. Men and women can be possessed by the Loa, but only one Loa possesses one person, and the genders may not match: a woman can be possessed by a male Loa, and a man can be possessed by a female Loa. The Loas interact with other people in the crowd, talking to them, giving them advice, curses or blessings. Wiccan priests and priestesses who have been exposed to these ideas sometimes adopt the practice, and while possessed by the God or Goddes, may talk to their coveners and give them advice.

The gender differentiation in Wiccan invocation does not always hold true. I knew a coven of gay men who invoked the Goddess on each other and on themselves. I also knew of a woman-only group of traditional Witches where one of the women would take on the role of priest. They’d pass a bowl with tokens in it around the circle, and the woman who pulled the token acted as the priest. I don’t know if the priest was possessed by the God in their work, however. I note that Wiccan women who do not work with men often will not work with male deity.

In the context of the big Pagan festivals, priests and priestesses invoke deity and interact with huge numbers of people. I’ve been involved in a number of such rituals, including enactments of the Eleusinian mysteries, Dionysias, and the Sumerian Sacred Marriage. In each case there was no formal training involved, or even discussion about what technique the priests and priestesses would use. Each was left to invoke deity on his or her own.

I’m sworn to secrecy about the Eleusinian rites, but I can talk about the Sumerian Sacred Marriage. I wrote a ritual adaptation of this rite based on Samuel Noah Kramer’s papers and books, with a lot of auxiliary research into Thorkild Jacobsen and other sources. The rite started on Friday night and ended on Sunday morning, with the culminating ritual being Saturday night. There were seven stages to the ritual, each involving a pairing of priestess and priest.

On Friday night, the priest invoked Inanna on the priestess, and then the priestess invoked Dumuzi on the priest. This began the chain of power. We consciously invested the power of the deities into jewelry: a blue robe, belt and necklace for the Goddess, and red robe, necklace and belt for the God. When the priest and priestess took the jewels off they also took off the deity. This made a handy way to pass the power on to the next pair enacting the deities.

On Saturday night, the final rite of the evening involved the sacred marriage of the two deities. The priest and priestess retired to a tent while the festival participants banged on pots and pans and howled. We performed the ritual two years in a row, and I was the priestess in the tent the first year. The combination of deity invocation, sex, and the energy of a festival full of people, is the most powerful energy hit I’ve ever taken. Then on Sunday morning the priest and priestess invoked the Goddess and God to pass out dates to the festival participants, returning the energy charge of the evening to them in the form of a sweet blessing.

I have also, much more frequently, engaged in the Great Rite with a priest without anyone else involved in the ritual. In that case the rite is specifically designed as a form of worship to the deities. The gift is the use of our bodies. Again, this is very powerful sex magic, and although we seldom ask for any personal benefit from the ritual, there is always a sense of spiritual strengthening and peace.

At times I have asked a priest to invoke a deity on me so that I could explore that deity. Library research, while essential, only takes you so far; sometimes you just have to call the deity up and ask!

Finally, I have invoked deity privately, with no one else present at all. When I am working privately I do not feel constrained to limit myself to female deity, and invoke male deity just as comfortably.

I spent five years in a teaching collective, the School of Night; for one of our classes, Ritual Magick, I taught a section on bonding with deity that was adapted from the Aurum Solis technique. Students were given successive homework assignments. First they were to pick a deity–and usually they had one in mind already; then study the deity; next, make an altar; and finally, make an offering to the deity. I stopped short of teaching invocation in that context. We taught the students not to bargain with deities or make long-term promises until they were much more familiar with magick in general and the overwhelming presence of deity energy in particular.

For me the feeling of a deity possesson is unmistakeable. It is a sense of presence similar to that of evokation, but this time it is inside the body: a heaviness, tingling over the body, especially at the back of the head, and an immediate conversation with the deity. My level of consciousness depends on a lot of factors, including whether I have invoked on myself or whether a partner has invoked on me; whether there are other people or energies involved; and the purpose of the working–if I am initiating I have to be aware of the needs of the ritual, but if I am offering my body to a Goddess to make love with a God, I am free to lose myself in the sensations.

At times the deity speaks through me, addressing my partner(s). Sometimes what is said surprises me. I am never in doubt that it is the deity speaking and not me. There are deities who are very much less verbal than others, either because they are very old and their minds do not match ours all that well, or because they prefer another language than English, or because they are mostly interested in feeling rather than talking.

After each working I immediately tape record my memories of what I said. One of my working partners and I conducted several dozen sessions invoking the same deities; I invoked a Goddess, he invoked a God and a Goddess. Reviewing those tapes some years later, I am struck by how much information I was able to capture that I have no conscious memory of. However, the knowledge and wisdom gained from these encounters has become part of the daily fabric of my life and of my understanding of the world.

I hope that these notes will serve to inspire students of magick to try their own experiments. There are no hard and fast rules in Western magick about what is possible in deity invocation. A woman can invoke a Goddess or a God; a man can invoke a Goddess or a God; they can invoke deity on each other; two women (or more) can invoke Goddesses or Gods, two (or more) men can invoke Gods or Goddesses. The invocation can be performed as a solitary ritual, a partnered ritual, in a small group, or among hundreds of people. Its purpose can be to embody a deity for initiation, for a celebration, or as an act of worship to the deities. No things are forbidden; every man and every woman is automatically empowered to perform any magick which they can imagine and which it is their Will to perform. Invocation is especially rewarding because it is so powerful, adapts well to a sex magick working, and no matter what the stated intent of the ritual, always lifts the magician up.

copyright © 2001 Brandy Williams