Book Club Post

The Ritual of High Magic: Chapter 4

With this post we continue a monthly chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, the book that launched the modern magical revival.  Here and in the months ahead we’re plunging into the white-hot fires of creation where modern magic was born. If you’re just joining us now, I recommend reading the earlier posts in this sequence first; you can find them here.  Either way, grab your tarot cards and hang on tight.

If you can read French, I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Lévi’s book in the original and follow along with that; it’s readily available for sale in Francophone countries, and can also be downloaded for free from If not, the English translation by me and Mark Mikituk is recommended; A.E. Waite’s translation, unhelpfully retitled Transcendental Magic, is second-rate at best—riddled with errors and burdened with Waite’s seething intellectual jealousy of Lévi—though you can use it after a fashion if it’s what you can get. Also recommended is a tarot deck using the French pattern:  the Knapp-Hall deck (unfortunately out of print at the moment), the Wirth deck (available in several versions), or any of the Marseilles decks are suitable.


“Chapter Four:  The Conjuration of the Four” (Greer & Mikituk, pp. 234-245).


When Lévi referred to traditional magical rituals as enigmas and mystifications in an earlier chapter, he was among other things giving due warning to his readers that the instructions in the chapters that follow would use the same devices—enigmas and mystifications—to communicate their lessons about practical magic. The current chapter is a good example. It gives a great many details about certain kinds of magical practice, as a means to instruct the attentive student in how to understand magic. Those details can also be used as a recipe book; following Lévi’s instructions, exactly as he gives them, you can learn and practice magic, and get good effects with it; but this is not our author’s primary purpose. He means his ritual texts as examples to be interpreted symbolically and understood, not just to be used.

That double purpose imposes certain responsibilities on the student, and therefore on a commentary like this one. On the one hand, though he provides a great many details of ritual, he does so in a chopped-up fashion, with only the most minimal information about context. This is deliberate. Lévi was not interested in helping his readers fumble through rituals with his book open in one hand, trying to read an unfamiliar text by candlelight. He expected students of magic who wanted to work with his ceremonies to copy out the texts, study them, understand them, and commit the important parts to memory. To make sure this would happen, he divided the rituals up, putting some pieces in one chapter and some in another, and quite often putting a ritual in one chapter and the explanation in another. This commentary will offer a certain amount of help in putting the pieces together, but you’re still going to have to do some of the work yourself.

That’s one side of the labor ahead. The other side is Lévi’s main purpose in presenting the rituals, which is to give you instructions in magic in symbolic form. Again, the rituals he gives are meant to be interpreted, not merely practiced. Just as he walked the reader through the ancient Greek cycle of legends set in Thebes in the first volume of our text, expecting those who were paying attention to understand the complex metaphors being used and grasp what he was trying to say about the nature of the universe and the philosophy of magic, in this second volume he is about to walk you through a series of ritual metaphors, hoping again that you will pay attention, grasp the symbolic nature of what he is saying, and understand the lessons in the practice of magic that he wants to pass on to you.

With these points in mind, we can proceed. Lévi’s first concern is to relate magic to the four elements of traditional philosophy and occultism. In the previous chapter he explained that the art of conjuring a spirit consisted of attuning oneself to the consciousness of that spirit, using symbolic methods; when the mage who does this has a stronger, more balanced, and more reflective will than the spirit he is summoning, the spirit carries out the will of the mage. (Of course the reverse is equally true.)

The spirits of the elements, which Lévi calls elementals and elementaries interchangeably—some later occultists were more precise—are no exception to this rule. Their minds are simpler, less reflective, and less balanced than most human minds; they are not evil, or for that matter good, but curious, playful, and innocent; in the language of Biblical metaphor, they have not tasted of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and so they are without conscience or understanding. They can bless people without the least intention to do good and torment them without the least intention to do harm. This gives them considerable power in magic, but the mage who summons and directs them bears all the responsibility for their actions.

Lévi believed that the elementals had to be dominated with great severity. There he was mistaken, though he had the weight of medieval magical lore behind his mistake. Several occult traditions, the Rosicrucians and the Druid Revival among them, long ago established good relations with the elemental kingdoms and can work with them in a gentler, more friendly way; those who are initiated into these traditions and treat the elemental kingdoms appropriately will find that their relations with elementals need no such severity.  For that matter, those who have achieved a comfortable balance among their own internal elemental forces will find the same thing to be true.  Only whose who are at war with the elements within themselves have to dominate the elements around them.

I have no idea how many students of Lévi’s work back in nineteenth-century France went to the trouble of walking through burning buildings, swimming in dangerous waters, and the rest of it. As far as I know I’ve never met a modern mage who’s done this, because this is one of the places where Lévi’s use of symbolism is fairly easy to understand. Those who master the elements in their own human microcosm—the fire of ego, the water of turbulent emotions, the air of the chattering mind, and the earth of material cravings—have accomplished the same task in a way that is even more productive of magical power. This mastery must be achieved before the elemental kingdoms can be evoked or, as Lévi says, exorcised.

Toward the end of this chapter, our text makes this very point in words evocative enough that they have been used, verbatim or nearly so, in the teaching documents and initiation rituals of more than one magical order: “But one must be prompt and active like the sylphs, flexible and attentive to images like the undines, energetic and strong like the salamanders, laborious and patient like the gnomes; in one word, one must vanquish with their strengths and never allow oneself to be subdued by their weaknesses. When one is well reinforced in this disposition, the entire world shall be in service to the wise operator.”

As this indicates, there are four classes of elementals corresponding to the four traditional elements, and Lévi gives these the names assigned to them by Paracelsus in the sixteenth century.  The elementals of air are called sylphs; those of water are called undines; those of earth are called gnomes; and those of fire are called salamanders. (This last word got assigned to certain species of lizardlike amphibians, also called newts, because these animals routinely live in half-rotted logs and, when those are burnt, will come scampering out, seemingly from the midst of the fire.) Each has to be evoked using a different ritual.

The ritual forms Lévi gives for these evocations are a lively mix of medieval forms and old Pagan Neoplatonist prayers. A good example of the medieval forms is the Latin spell for commanding the spirits of air, the first spell this chapter gives. A good example of the Neoplatonist prayers is the Prayer of the Sylphs that follows it. Notice the abrupt change of tone between the two of these. The spell uses Biblical phrasing and is spoken by the mage in the first person. The prayer uses its own very different language and is spoken by the mage as though speaking for the sylphs themselves.  Here you have the structure of magic discussed in the previous chapter, crisply embodied in ritual form:  first the mage masters the element, and then the mage becomes attuned to the consciousness of the element.

Can you use these ritual forms to achieve this?  Of course—but there’s a catch. The ritual all by itself will not do the job. Along with the ritual, you need the transformation of consciousness that gives the ritual its meaning, which is the shift we’ve already talked about: the mastery of the chattering mind and of all the airy qualities within your own personality. This doesn’t mean that you have to suppress these things.  It means that you have to have them under the direction of your will, so your mind can chatter away when you choose to let it, and will stop chattering when you need it to be silent. That capacity is what gives you the power to command the sylphs. Then you attune with them through sympathy—the prayer is intended to help with that—and the souls of the air become your helpers.

Let’s proceed to the other elements. The first thing you’ll notice as you read the following pages is that the Latin spell for air has an equivalent for water, but not for the other two elements. The second thing you’ll notice is that water also has an elaborate set of rituals assigned to it, which are used to prepare and consecrate holy water; no equivalent ritual process exists for any of the other elements.  The third thing you’ll notice is that you use a specific ritual gesture to command the spirits of air, water, and fire, but you use all three of these gestures together to command earth. None of these things is accidental, or an oversight on Lévi’s part.

The explanation of the first two points has already been given; Lévi wasn’t interested in making things easy for the kind of student who wants to read rituals out of a book. Thus he left things out, so that readers who want to use the specific approach to magic he presents have to fill in the gaps themselves. This is not as difficult as it sounds; other ritual texts of the same general type can be found elsewhere in the present book, and the magical books available to readers of Lévi’s own time—all of which are still readily available today—will provide an abundance of examples for the interested student. Equally, of course, those who are exploring the fundamental ideas Lévi presents can create their own ritual texts.

The third point has another reason behind it. Cabalistic symbolism makes much use of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and assigns letters to the seven visible planets and the twelve signs of the zodiac. (There are various ways of doing this, and epic quarrels between partisans of different systems.) 7 + 12 = 19; subtract this from 22 and you’ve got three letters left to assign to the elements, and fire, water, and air typically get those letters.  So earth, to many Cabalistic occultists, is the red-haired stepchild of the elements, without a letter of its own, and very often fire, water, and air are used jointly to do things involving earth.

The attentive reader who has gotten this far will doubtless be wondering what exactly Lévi intended his students to do with these rituals. This is another detail that our text does not spell out, but the application of these workings will become clear as we proceed through the chapters to come. For example, the seventh chapter of the Ritual gives ceremonies for consecrating talismans of the seven visible planets.  It is also possible to consecrate talismans of the four elements, and the rituals just given can be used for this purpose. Equally, in the work of initiation—a process that is central to Lévi’s entire book—invocations of the elements using these or similar ritual forms can be put to work in place of the more material confrontations with the elements that our text discusses. (This was central, for instance, to some of the initiation rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.)

After the four elemental rituals, Lévi goes on to another ritual practice, the Conjuration of the Four itself.  This ritual, for a change, he describes completely, and also explains its purpose. The Conjuration of the Four is a banishing ritual; its purpose is to restore balance in the elemental kingdoms and chase off elemental beings who are harassing human beings. Here, too, Lévi is careful to make things difficult for the careless reader; he gives the entire ritual in order except for the sign of the Cross—the ancestor of the Golden Dawn’s Cabalistic Cross—which is done at the beginning and end of the ritual, but which he gives a little later in the text.

All this may seem annoying to the modern reader, who is used to being spoonfed by books on topics such as this one. We live in a time where whole shelves are filled with books whose titles proclaim that they were written for dummies or complete idiots, and it seems to occur to very few people that reading such things encourages them to become dummies and complete idiots. Lévi was writing for a different audience or perhaps simply with a different purpose. He did not expect his readers to be geniuses, or even mages—but he wrote his book to help them become the latter, if not the former.  Treat his text as a workbook, and embrace the process of reading and understanding it as a set of exercises in magical thinking:  that approach will turn your study of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic into a process of initiation.

Notes for Study and Practice:

It’s quite possible to get a great deal out of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by the simple expedient of reading each chapter several times and thinking at length about the ideas and imagery that Lévi presents. For those who want to push things a little further, however, meditation is a classic tool for doing so.

Along with the first half of our text, I introduced the standard method of meditation used in Western occultism:  discursive meditation, to give it its proper name, which involves training and directing the thinking mind rather than silencing it (as is the practice in so many other forms of meditation).  Readers who are just joining us can find detailed instructions in the earlier posts in this series. For those who have been following along, however, I suggest working with a somewhat more complex method, which Lévi himself mention in passing:  the combinatorial method introduced by Catalan mystic Ramon Lull in the Middle Ages, and adapted by Lévi and his successors for use with the tarot.

Take the first card of the deck, Trump 1, Le Bateleur (The Juggler or The Magician). While looking at it, review the three titles assigned to it:  Disciplina, Ain Soph, Kether, and look over your earlier meditations on this card to be sure you remember what each of these means. Now you are going to add each title of this card to Trump II, La Papesse (The High Priestess): Chokmah, Domus, Gnosis. Place Trump II next to Trump I and consider them. How does Disciplina, discipline, relate to Chokmah, wisdom?  How does Disciplina relate to Domus, house?  How does it relate to Gnosis?  These three relationships are fodder for one day’s meditation. For a second day, relate Ain Soph to the three titles of La Papesse. For a third day, relate Kether to each of these titles. Note down what you find in your journal.

Next, combine Le Bateleur with Trump III, L’Imperatrice (The Empress), in exactly the same way, setting the cards side by side. Meditate on the relationship of each of the Juggler’s titles to the three titles of the Empress,  three meditations in all.  Then combine the Juggler and the Emperor in exactly the same way. Then go on to the Juggler and the Pope, giving three days to each, and proceed from there. You’ll still be working through combinations of Le Bateleur when the next Lévi post goes up, but that’s fine; when you finish with Le Bateleur, you’ll be taking La Papesse and combining her with L’Imperatrice, L’Empereur, and so on, and thus moving through all 231 combinations the trumps make with one another.

Don’t worry about where this is going. Unless you’ve already done this kind of practice, the goal won’t make any kind of sense to you. Just do the practice.  You’ll find, if you stick with it, that over time the relationships between the cards take on a curious quality I can only call conceptual three-dimensionality:  a depth is present that was not there before, a depth of meaning and ideation.  It can be very subtle or very loud, or anything in between. Don’t sense it?  Don’t worry.  Meditate on a combination every day anyway. Do the practice and see where it takes you.

We’ll be going on to Chapter 5, “The Flaming Pentagram,” on September 13, 2023. See you then!


  1. I was just thinking about the stupidification of everything when I read this from todays essay, ” We live in a time where whole shelves are filled with books whose titles proclaim that they were written for dummies or complete idiots,” . It is such a sad turnaround from a time when a thinker such as Levi would assume that what he was teaching was worth intensive study, and discipline to the world where we live in which everything can be mastered with some kind of secret ” trick”.
    It is actually worse than the bookshelves filled with ” Quantum Mechanics for Idiots Books”. We now have the internet filled with videos promising “hacks” or “little known tricks” that will instantly enable you to master a foreign language, carpentry or organic gardening. This along with the collapse of faith in ” official science” we have the rise of modern pseudo- magicians.
    The king of these is Elon Musk. So you know longer need to spend some time spent studying astronomy, physics and math to understand the actual challenges and prospects of space travel. You can be an instant expert after a few videos. Elon ( the dark magician) does some tricks, such as having his booster land on its feet, or the seeing the “mechazilla” grab a starship husk out of the air and the gullible are under his spell.
    I couldn’t understand why some of the same people who couldn’t believe we landed a man on the moon do believe that Elon will soon land and return humans from mars. But now I realize that his form of ” dark magic” is very powerful. As the belief in science collapses we will see both good and bad paths to a more spiritual future, and I hope we all don’t go down Elon’s.

  2. JMG;
    I realize that I am perhaps being needy here, but if you could possibly consider putting a table of contents for these posts (with links) somewhere on the site, it would be gloriously helpful for those of us plowing through this less rapidly.

    Good stuff BTW, I am working through the cards now and I use your posts as a check after I have finished my primary texts (Wang/Robinson/Crowley).

  3. Here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. A printable version of the entire prayer list may be downloaded here. Please feel free to add any or all of the requests to your own prayers.

    If I missed anybody, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom a relevant person holds power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a reply here or at the first link at the top of this comment.

    * * *
    This week I would like to bring special attention to the following prayer requests.

    Nebulous Realms has reason to think they may be in particular physical or spiritual danger for the next couple of weeks (posted 8/7); they request prayers for their personal safety.

    Steve T’s brother Matt is currently in the hospital after a sudden violent seizure, and his daughter is having extreme panic attacks; they were both in a terrible car accident last fall. Steve asks for prayers for Matt’s recovery of health; for the emotional and psychological well-being of the rest of the family, including his wife Megan, his daughter Diana, and his young son Jake; and for the lifting of any spiritual harm afflicting the family.

    Freddy, Ganeshling’s neighbor’s 10 year old son, hasn’t spoken since a traumatic hospital stay a few years ago; for Freddy to start speaking again and to help him develop into a functional adult.

    Tamanous’s friend’s brother David got in a terrible motorcycle accident and has been diagnosed as a quadriplegic given the resultant spinal damage; for healing and the positive outcomes of upcoming surgeries and rehabilitation, specifically towards him being able to walk and live a normal life once more.

    Lp9’s hometown, East Palestine, Ohio, for the safety and welfare of their people, animals and all living beings in and around East Palestine, and to improve the natural environment there to the benefit of all. The reasonable possibility exists that this is an environmental disaster on par with the worst America has ever seen. (Lp9 gives updates here and also here.)

    * * *

    Guidelines for how long prayer requests stay on the list, how to word requests, how to be added to the weekly email list, how to improve the chances of your prayer being answered, and several other common questions and issues, are now to be found at the Ecosophia Prayer List FAQ.

    If there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  4. Dear JMG,

    You state the need for mastery of one’s “own human microcosm—the fire of ego, the water of turbulent emotions, the air of the chattering mind, and the earth of material cravings […] before the elemental kingdoms can be evoked or […] exorcised.

    Your reemphasis of this need at several points in the text gives one pause for thought.

    My question relating to this is: how one knows such mastery has been achieved?Is there a useful rule of thumb?

    I am concerned that unhelpful temptations or ideas might be planted within my consciousness that may lie unobserved. This seems to be the risk as I understand it. Having undergone a period of psychotherapy, which I think to be a form of secular alchemy, I continue to be surprised at how unhelpful ideas lie submerged, how potent they can be and the damage they are capable of wreaking.

    Yours kindly,

  5. @JMG

    Since you mentioned discursive meditation, I wanted to ask you this – does discursive meditation help build intuition in thought, the kind that comes as a flash of insight in an unexpected ‘aha!’ moment. If possible, I’d like to build this ability; if it can be done via discursive meditation, that’s a winner for me, given how safe discursive meditation is.

  6. Clay, this is standard. As each civilization’s age of reason winds down, people flail around looking for some replacement, and various kinds of charismatic stupidity have their day. Eventually what works and what doesn’t becomes tolerably clear, and the civilization settles into its age of memory. That said, yeah, it’s often not a pleasant thing to watch.

    Degringolade, do you mean all the Lévi posts? You can get them all, in reverse order, by clicking on this link:

    Quin, thanks for this as always.

    Boy, in my experience the mastery of the elements isn’t something you do and then it’s done with; it’s something that must always be worked on. The same thing you noticed in dealing with psychotherapy is true with magical self-transformation as well; it’s a road to be walked, not a goal to be achieved and then surpassed.

    Viduraawakened, your mileage may vary, but it certainly worked that way for me.

  7. Synchronicities!

    Back when you did your Sphere of Protection series on the dreamwidth site[1], you claimed that working through the ritual step by step was a self-inititation process in itself. I am revisiting that now and understand that what happened back there is the same thing you are describing about Ritual of High Magic. It is almost a necessity that a candidate will go through the motions of the SOP ritual, because it is the first ritual that will provide a “safe sandbox” to play in and develop of the basic set of skills. However, many things make no sense and must be revisited later.

    For the 4 elements (to bring back the subject to today’s post), in the JudeoChristian tradition, you provided 4 sacred names of God: Yahwe, Ell, Adonnai and Elohim. Yahwe is to me an obvious enough choice for the element of Air (being the “sky god” of the proto-Israelite nation), but I do not see how Ell would make a better choice for Water than any of the others. Same for each element.

    Some time later, in the comments section [2], you provided further names with Biblical basis. Well it is rather titles for Lord Jesus, so you could say “Jesus, the Good Sheppard” and all that… The point is that there where 4 names corresponding to the 4 elements: the Word, Emmanuel, Son of David, and something about the Sun from one prophet in the Old Testament. These are not as hard to place, but I’d definitively use Emmanuel for the Spirit Within, so I do not know how is it related to Water.

    So, in the spirit of this being an spiritual journey, what sources I need to check in order to place those names successfully? It probably involves lots of meditation, but I will need some raw material to begin with. I expect the Bible will suffice for the second case, but on the names in the Old Testament, everything is just translated to “Lord”. Any recommendation?

    [1] I have been studying these very closely for the past week, but right now I cannot go and fetch the link.
    [2] Ditto

  8. My thoughts as it concerns evoking / conjuration of spirits as put forth in Chapter III and this passage in Chapter IV (last paragraph pg. 234):

    “It is they who often determine our disquieting or bizarre dreams for us……..but they can never manifest another thought than our own, and if we think of nothing, they speak to us with all the incoherence of dreams”

    Due to the fact that many dreams return to the same topic or scenario and using Chapter IV as a guide, Id’ say that most repetitive dreams one has is the result of elemental evocation:

    – Either we have invoked the elemental spirit or it has somehow noticed our thoughts and invoked us.

    – As humans, we do not have one constantly dominating thought. See Chapter III paragraph 2: “To evoke a spirit…is to enter into the dominant thought of that spirit…”. That makes it sound like many spirits have one main dominant thought. That’s a topic for another meditation but I submit that humans do not have one main dominant thought.

    – That being said and at risk of contradicting the point above, we do have our preoccupations.

    – I bring these up as many of my dreams tend to return to the same topic or scenario and usually of a stressful nature.

    I’m open to correction but, at least according to Levi, I have either evoked elemental spirits (pg. 234 “It is they who often determine our disquieting or bizarre dreams..”) or they have evoked me and my thoughts.

    Even if they have invoked my thoughts “..they can never manifest another thought than our own..” but they do “speak to us with all the incoherence of dreams”. Meaning, unlike in Chapter III, we won’t serve them if they dominate but they sure will “often torment those who deal with them” or at least keep running the same old scenarios into one’s dreams.

  9. During recent discursive meditations on the Emperor, it occurred to me that the Great Arcanum could be consciousness itself. By that I mean self-reflection or the stuff of the Universe acting on itself. It is the ternary that balances out the binary of the two pillars. Tiphareth might also represent consciousness, since it is the balancing point of the Tree. Consciousness also works with the Great Agent.

    But for human to operate on the Universe, consciousness must be balanced. It needs the three elements from Levi’s cube: Will, Wisdom and Love. The Emperor is Will, Wisdom is the Hierophant or Hermit and Love is maybe the Lovers or the Empress.

    These three tie together as the main elements for consciousness to act effectively. Interestingly, on the Knapp-Hall deck, Justice, the Hierophant and the High Priestess all have a red background and they sit on a throne. Something tells me they might represent the three elements of consciousness, but in this case they are not Will, Wisdom and Love. They are something else.

  10. JMG – I am not sure if you read SFF for entertainment anymore, from your comments it sounds like you are commited to a LOT of serious reading and, of course, writing. So perhaps you are not familiar with Orson Scott Card’s ‘Seventh Son’, but I kind of suspect that you are. In the story, the protagonist is endowed with higher level powers at birth, primarily involving the material world, due to his being the 7th son of a 7th son. His antagonist seems to be the element of water, which Card gives a distinctly malevolent quality. I found this aspect of the story incredible off-putting and frankly upsetting; perhaps because I am a water person by nature and have always found water the element that I relate to most easily. Card making my friend the water into the antagonist in his story was powerfully disturbing to me!

    My first question is thus: Do you think Orson Scott Card perhaps knows a bit about magery and elementals or is simply intuiting the possibility with surprisingly similar aspects to Levi?

    Second question: Is it possible to have a (hopefully friendly) relationship with elementals on a non-conscious level?

    Since I was a child, I have felt a strong connection to water in all it’s forms but most especially the sea and the rain. Also to a much lesser degree with the wind/air. As a sailor it has always delighted me to play with the wind and though it may sound presumptuous, it will usually come when I call, though not always instantly (it has to come from somewhere, right?) Sailors are notoriously superstitious and whistling on board ship or sticking a knife in the mast, etc. is commonly understood to be an insult to the wind and likely to bring more wind than you’d like. Are these “superstitions” perhaps intuitions of elemental consciousness?

    As always, thank you for your time and dedication to illuminating a frequently opaque field of study.

  11. Very interesting. I believe there was one paragraph I understood and that is the one about about books for dummies.

    Levi wrote his masterpiece in the middle of the 19th century. While his system is quite complicated, I believe the world has become tremendously more complicated since his time.

    My memory stretches back to 1954 when the new Queen visited Australia. I can tell you the world has become much more complicated just since then. Nowadays everything is not only at least ten times more complicated, but takes about ten times longer to do, and doesn’t seem to work much of the time. We live in a frenzied 24/7 world.

    It takes so much more time to get the simplest thing done these days that people only have time to specialize in some narrow area. Thus the need for books for dummies. It seems to be a joke meant to replace the more staid “an introduction to” books.

    While I have never read a book for dummies, I request that you show some mercy for us members of the hoi polloi who need help to get through the next 24 hours in these hectic times.

  12. Hi John Michael,

    You wisely remarked to me many years ago that the mage must first learn to harness their own will. Dare I mention that Mr Lévi is suggesting that those who firstly seek power and control over others may quickly come to a bad end? It takes a lot of years of work to master one’s own will, and even then I believe that it is only partially possible to live consciously. Dude, it’s hard! 🙂

    As always, these posts are where the real action is, and are always thought provoking. Your other posts on the other hand invoke a lot of emotional energy, and I have nothing but respect for you taking on all comers. My old Sensei used to open the Dojo on a Saturday morning to take on all comers. He was a master, and like him, all your commenters on those other essays don’t realise that they’re honing you. Here, you’re turning that blade around on us.



  13. CR, good. Yes, exactly — can you tell that I’ve been reading Lévi regularly for nearly half a century? 😉 As for the placement of the divine names, those are traditional, and came to modern magic from the Cabala; what subtle principles led the old rabbis to assign divine names to the elements probably won’t be clear to anyone who doesn’t know the Old Testament in Hebrew inside and out, which I don’t. I simply gave them in the traditional order. In terms of the titles of Jesus, by all means take the New Testament and run with it — that and a lot of meditation is what I would suggest.

    Scotty, yes, precisely. If you want to change that, you need to learn to make your preoccupations subject to your will.

    Jon, good. Keep working on it!

    Ken, I read the first volume of that series, didn’t like it much — I’m not a fan of Card’s writing style — and didn’t read the others. Card is a Mormon, and I’m pretty sure he was paying attention in the late 20th century when a lot of research on the magical origins of the Mormon faith saw light; the book read to me as though he was taking 19th century magical traditions and using it as raw material for his fiction. As for your second question, of course! Many children do, and some people manage not to have the magic beaten out of them on the way to adulthood. Sailors’ “superstitions,” like those of all people who live and work close to the natural world, are worth paying attention to.

    Roman, did you think that I was born in some kind of privileged setting, free from the clutter that annoys mere mortals? Not so. I simply chose not to participate in the frenzy you talk about. It really is voluntary, you know: a few simple choices, starting with flinging your television into the dumpster, will calm the frenzy and reveal that most of it’s just handwaving that people use to distract themselves.

    Chris, Dion Fortune used to say that it takes at least three lifetimes of hard work to achieve adeptship, so yes, it’s hard.

  14. It is an important question raised in your post – What is one to do? How to use these tools? For what?

    The possibilities are endless. So many threads on which to pull. One could feel his sanity slip away, in reaching out to grab at them all. The right symbols… the proper number of letters… the correct timing of the equinox, the charted planets in the sky… a sage reading of the omens… But is that the right place to look?

    To limit oneself in time and in space. To focus one’s attention on chores domestic or communal. To summon the temple within or raise up one without. To sidestep the morass of public gossip or stand in the midst of it pushing tirelessly to one side. To endure the task. To keep to one direction for as long as it can be borne.

    The times change. Omens to heed now may not always ring auspicious. What, indeed, is one to do?

  15. As with each chapter, plenty of material for contemplation.

    The surrealists practiced a method of what i would call pyromancy where they would place paper above a candle or other source of smoke and allow the soot to collect on the surface. They called this fumage. The fumage could stand alone or be incorporated into or used as the basis of another work. You could read into the shapes in the same way you might read the clouds…

    …which I suppose might be a branch of aeromancy.

    These might be fun ways to practice some of these types of elemental divination.

    Beyond proper Germany, looming at patterns in rocks or dirt could go for earth (and using same as basis for surrealist frottage or transposing to surfaces for art). Water divination might lie in staring at the surface of moving water and seeing if visions of some kind manifest. Some ideas…

    On another note, I was surprised Levi attributed melancholy to Earth. I often think of that humor as aqueous. Yet I do see that lead is heavy and saturnine. I need to spend some more time studying the traditional western humoral system.

  16. You have apparently done a good job shielding yourself from the frenzy we face today. But I’m not talking about watching television.

    I’m talking about keeping a job, dealing with the latest software update that doesn’t work, driving to work, finding a parking space, hoping your car won’t be stolen, ordering something online, hoping that won’t be stolen, dealing with doctors whose response to everything is drugs or surgery, etc.

    You get the picture. It’s very hard for the average American to avoid these things.

  17. Hi John Michael,

    I’m not arguing with that observation. Mileage may vary, and some folks may take longer, but short cuts, I don’t think so. 😉

    I had a really vivid dream this morning, and wasn’t sure at all what to make of it. I have no visual memory whilst awake, it’s all blank in there. However, dreams are the only mental space where I see images. Sorry, but some background and stuff. So in the dream I was riding a horse, through a shallow swamp, and my riding companion was none other than the ‘Green Man’. I know very little about that bloke, however the certain knowledge was there in the dream that it was him. Interestingly, he remarked that, and here I forget his exact words, but the gist was that this was the end for him. It didn’t feel sad, more just that was how things were meant to be. And with that he rode off into a herd of animals which may have been Aurochs, they certainly weren’t cows. The implication was that he did not intend to survive the encounter, in that incarnation.

    Seriously, I do not know what to make of it. Do you think it may mean something? I have not read anything about this character for many a year. It was surprising as it was not on my mind.



  18. Joseph, good. That’s one of the great challenges faced by every mage — now that you’ve learned to do these things, what do you do with them? The answer is different for every single person, and it’s something simple that you can settle once and for all. The world stands before you, a forest in which there is path between every two trees. Which will you take?

    Justin, you need to keep your spell-check on a tighter leash. I assume “beyond proper Germany” was supposed to be “beyond proper geomancy”! As for earth and melancholy, nah, depression is dry and hard and cold. The phlegmatic person weeps a lot but they’re as often tears of joy as of sorrow.

    Roman, throw out your television and you have four to six hours a day of additional time to do something useful, and your brain isn’t full of (ahem) programming. The average American could avoid the things you’ve listed if they weren’t drugging themselves into a trance with media and wasting time that could be directed into finding some less useless way to live. (BTW, will you please stop trying to drag the conversation off topic? No, it doesn’t matter if you find some roundabout way to insist that what you want to talk about has something distantly in common with the theme of the post.)

    Chris, weird. The interpretation of dreams isn’t a gift I have, but that’s certainly an unsettling set of images.

  19. John…

    Yes, spell check is something I usually don’t have on at all, as you probably know from reading so many of my comments. (Thank you for the time you put into your engagement with us all here.) That said, I have noticed autocorrect has its own agenda… so I’ve autodeflected it.

    I can see why melancholia is assigned to earth and phlegmatic to water. I suppose just like there are cross quarter days in the wheel of the year, as individuals our humors also sit somewhere in the wheel, and may change depending on where we are in the wheel of our lives. Maybe someone is pure choleric most of the time, but slips back towards sanguine on occassion, or what have you. Though I think we have definite predispositions.

    As for the rite Levi gives one to construct, it seems these could be well incorporated into the SOP. Also the making of holy water & such as written here, would be worthy of exploring also in the context of the gnostic lessons.

    I like what you said to @Boy, that it’s not a matter of being one and done with the elements. That its a road to be walked. I do find that to be true, because I’ve had certain areas of my personality, as exacerbated by an element seem to “improve” or be more balanced, for quite awhile only to come back around and find it ain’t so again, and that area needs more balancing again. However, regular practice of TSW type S does seem to have an overall balancing effect -and I seem to get back to a place of balance more easily than I had than if I wasn’t doing something like the SOP. The periods of being enflamed, flighty, weighed down or weepy at the beauty and sorrow of it all seem less pronounced.


    If you don’t mind, your dream is pretty magical sounding! I have worked with dreams a bit, but I’m not exactly sure how to interpret it. If this were my dream I would think about how, perhaps the green man is no longer green. He is older now. He might be moving on to other pastures with the aurochs, who are of course extinct in that form. Yet our cattle are the grandchildren of the aurochs, so maybe the Green Man deity/being/archetype will reincarnate as it were into a new type of being. And, if that were my dream it certainly would have rattled me.

    From your own writings here and on your blog, I’d say you are a man of the earth, so maybe the Green Man picked up on that and chose you to receive this message / impression of these changes.

    I don’t know if that helps at all. It’s just me riffing on the imagery.

    I did dream of a deity myself the night before last, a kind of Mother Mary, but she was called the “Verified Mother.” I hadn’t been particularly thinking of Mother Mary, though I have worked with her before in an esoteric context.


  20. @Chris_AFF, #17

    Intriguing. It is the first time I hear about the Green Man. Would it be possible that the figure you encountered is not on his last legs, but moving on and “passing on the mantle”?

    If that was the case, the obvious candidate that is gaining a lot of attention from certain demographic of humans is Santo Malverde (lit. Green-Illth, or perhaps Green-Foe). You surely are familiar with the stories of the 19th/20th century brigand and highway robber Jesús Malverde, who ambushed his prey by dressing in camo (not camo fabric, but actual green foilage sewn to his regular clothes). A Mexican Robin Hood, he taketh from the rich and gaveth to the poor. And even if the Catholic Church prohibits his cult, folks just keep having religious experiences around this entity.

  21. @Justin Patrick Moore #15 and #19 re: the Elements and Humors
    If you’re not aware, JMG gives a good, basic grounding in the elements and humors, as understood by medieval and renaissance mages in his Natural Magic Handbook, but if you really want to dig in, might I recommend the Humoral Herbal by Stephen Taylor. I haven’t given it a thorough read yet, I’ve just dipped in here and there to try to understand some things that have come up, but every time I’ve engaged with it, I’ve found it useful and fascinating. He gives a good intro to it on his recent appearance on the Plant Cunning podcast, if you’re into those.

    Incidentally, part of why I’ve looked into that has been my own work grappling with the elements and how they manifest in me, and my natal chart has been some help in starting to get a feel for that. For example, when I started learning magic, I assumed I was “Mr. Air,” as a lot of my habits and preferences fit with that, but as I dug into my natal chart more, I found a lot more fire than I expected, and reading some about the choleric disposition and some of its associated physical foibles, I found a lot more familiar than I would have expected. If you’re not already looking into that, that might be a fruitful path of exploration as you work on balancing your own elemental mix.

    @Chris #17, re: The Green Man Dream
    I can’t claim any great expertise in dream interpretation, but one thing that jumped out to me immediately is that the Green Man is a very European, heck, maybe even just a very British Isles, kind of mythical figure. You’re an Aussie, right? One possible interpretation that popped into my head is that this European figure went off to join a herd of extinct European megafauna, so perhaps it speaks to the waning importance of imported European spiritual ideas/figures in Australia, as more native spiritual Beings and forces make themselves known. Take it or leave it, but thought I’d share.


  22. @Jon G,

    I very much like your idea about consciousness and the Great Arcanum. It reminded me of some of the discussion back in Chapters 1 and 2, where the Unity (Kether) is Consciousness.

    I reread JMG’s commentary for Chapter 1 and found this:

    “To attain conscious control over your passions and your prejudices is to be able to participate freely in the dance of magical forces.”

    So, as above, so below. Perhaps “conscious control” is as close as we can get to true Consciousness in a material incarnation?

    Regarding the 2-High Priestess, the 5-Hierophant, and 8-Justice, Spheres 5 and 8 are in the left pillar. Though Sphere 2 isn’t in the left pillar, as the creation of the first duality, it is a Heh, so it kinda counts as left pillar. Perhaps they each represent Consciousness in one of Levi’s three Worlds (Mystical/Divine, Metaphysical/Moral, and Material/Physical)?

    This was also in JMG’s Chapter 1 commentary: “To be a mage is to be a priest and a king, Lévi says, a priest invoking the astral light and a king over the realities that unfold from that light.” And the King (Emperor) is sitting on a cube, or perhaps The Cube, which Levi says is “supreme and immovable reason” (aka Kether?).

    So now I am off to ponder The Cube some more…

  23. Seeing some of the ritual elements you used in Circles of Power in Levi was a pleasant surprise. Were they also used in the traditional Golden Dawn rituals? I have the brick but it may be a while before I get to it!

    I appreciate the book club, by the way, I don’t really comment but I follow along every week. This is my second pass through the book but the first time I really just forced myself through it and didn’t get nearly as much out of it; your guidance is appreciated.

  24. Hi John Michael,

    Unsettling, yeah, that was the feeling. I have no gift in that area either, which is why I asked. It seemed like a death – re-birth message to be honest, which kind of indicates change, but then I was not the subject. Basically, I have no idea. It means something though.

    Getting back to this weeks topic though. You wrote above about the journey as a road, and another analogy which fits is that of a ladder. Mr Lévi points vaguely to where a ladder should be, the student has to find the ladder, and then climb it without falling off (hopefully so anyway).

    One of the side effects of my rather unusual childhood was that ‘power and control’ over others is unappealing. Probably brought that poop down onto my own head, something, something, bad in a former life. 😉 Anyway, One of the interesting side effects of developing your will is that you can direct it towards real world activities, such as say, healing the land around you. And you know the rest of the story. Yours is an epic task.

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for taking the time to ponder the message. And I appreciate your interpretation. It does sound like change, doesn’t it? And yes, it did rattle me on waking, although the dream felt calm. Your words do help.

    I like that description. It’s true, I’ve given over my energies to the land. Spiritually that protects and nurtures, but physically, it’s a dangerous location for all sorts of reasons. But then, where isn’t these days?

    Ooo, that’s a fascinating image. Wonder what it means?



  25. Good day, everyone.

    In this chapter, what caugh my attention was the phrase about the humors, elementals, and the divination affinities. Cause, you know, I’ve always considered myself attuned to air, in that I value knowledge over most other things, and opposite to fire, in that I often lack energy and am not a sportive man.
    However, my ‘humor’ is not of airy head, but rather grumpy. Oh, I have it now under control thanks to the exercises, but the boy who gets irate by this or that is always trying to take control.

    But when it talks about divination affinity, it felt akward. I get good results with dreams, and also scrying, but never tried geomancy (it doesn’t call to me) and feel repulsion to cards (not the card itself, but the act of drawing dices or cards). Upon Levi, dreams belongs to air, and scrying to water.
    Then I read that scrying on a crystal ball was an alternative to read in the reflection of water bodies, such as lakes. Then I thought of looking to a glass as if I was looking to a lake. And, oh boy, what a difference! I don’t know why, but I got pretty good images coming out of the crystal and standing in plain air.
    It was a pentragramme followed by the hexagramme, in answer to the question of which elemental affinity I do have.
    As I interpret these images: the man who reigns over his emotions does not care about affinities since he masters over them all.
    In other words, dreams worked well for me because I have good control of air, and now scrying is working well because I am getting the rein of water, and mastery over all the elements is possible, but I haven’t achieved it yet. So it’s not a question of affinity, but of work done.

    I thought the Ritual was dull read, but now that you, JMG, have given the key, it has become more interesting. Lévi is throwing pieces of a puzzle that must be solved, scattered among every chapter. Wow. At least Dion Fortune explained at the very beginning that the CosDoc was a mental exercise that worked by meditating on it with the images in mind, and if you follow her instructions, something starts to happen.

    Another thought that came to me is that these french people really loved the flowery language if they were able to learn so many complicated prayers in french and latin.

  26. Justin, turning off spellcheck is one of the first things I do whenever I start using a program or get a new computer. Granted, I lose out on some fine surrealist poetry, but life is all about tradeoffs. 😉 As for Lévi and the SoP, I know for a fact that John Gilbert studied Lévi closely, and I’d be astonished if Juliet Ashley didn’t — and of course the two of them were jointly responsible for creating the SoP. So it’s probably not accidental.

    Ari, the material in Circles of Power is all standard Golden Dawn ritual work, so yes, the borrowings from Lévi were in there before I got to it. Everyone in the 19th-century occult scene read Lévi! Thank you for your comments about the book club, btw — much appreciated.

    Chris, if you’ve learned that power over others is a waste of time and the only power that matters is your own power to shape your own life, you’ve achieved a realization of immense importance. As for an epic task — oh, granted, but nobody ever lived life to the fullest by setting themselves tiny little goals.

    Abraham, if you have the talent for scrying in a crystal or in the sky, that’s an uncommon gift and one with enormous possibilities. I’m glad to hear that you’re developing it! And I’m delighted that you’re making the kind of sense of Lévi’s book he wanted readers to make.

  27. Hello JMG
    Beautiful explanation on how we can’t exclusively “think” our way into harmonious communion with beings, but also need to cultivate our refined “feeling” nature too. (Singing usually does the trick!)
    Thank you so much

  28. I reread the chapter when I saw you were in my inbox and got thinking again about how I wished levi didn’t feel that we had to be so severe and dominating to participate usefully with the elements. And I wondered if I would meet the physical challenges on each elemental in its element (so to speak har har), thinking back to the most extreme encounters with them in the wild, and king among those encounters was a big wave. Then last night I dreamed I was on a beach with people dear to me and I threw a foam-type football into the sky and the wind became so strong up high that it was held in the air like a plane mixed with a sailboat tacking into a headwind. We were pointing and chattering about look at that so when it dropped suddenly from the sky to a man across the beach he knew it belonged to us and tossed it easily back to me to catch. It felt like a notice from my subconscious that I have leveled up in my collaboration with the sylphs. When I was a kid a had recurring nightmare of being alone in a vast rough ocean with towering waves that made my stomach drop like an elevator cut loose from its cable. Curiously, I recently saw a pretty good take on that nightmare In Taylor swift’s video Cardigan. She knows her way around the elements and will… over the years, when I got a better handle on my … ability to sail my life-body-ship… then my water dreams changed. I remember the first time it happened there was a canal-like instead of a lonely sea. The hint about elementals playing with one’s dreams sure jives with experience and I’d never had that sort of ‘air’ dream before last night .

  29. I thunderstorm just passed nearby and I find myself unable to sleep; sorry if this comes out more garbbled than usual. My bed had me thinking of the elementals, and of magecraft itself, and it compelled me to get up and writte it.

    First, on past jobs and current jobs. One point of conflict I had as a teacher was that my supervisor demanded that I present the material in my classes in terms of the everyday lives of the students. This was always a source of conflict for me because the everyday interactions of the student with a computer is that of being controlled by it, while what I was trying to achieve was to have the student control the computer for a change. This implies who you already are, and who most people you know are, is not sufficient for the task at hand. It is an internal process of recreating yourself into someone to whom “go and do the impossible” can be put into real consideration for at least 5 minutes, at least for a certain realm of impossibilities.

    On my current job, where I need to perform up to par non unhinged by fashionable education doctrines, I find myself talking with my coworkers about realities that are in no sense physical but no for that any less real. These are not make believe games. We are utterly unable to force into the machine our consensus ideas of what should be; it will laugh’em off and continue to do what its abstract but precisely defined set of rules say is the actual behavior in this case. This beings do exist as independent entities outside of our heads, though they only have physical bodies inasmuch as their code occupy a tiny space of electrical charges inside the hardware. Then it downed on me: computer programs are composed of elemental-stuff. The source code is sylph-stuff, the running processes are salamander-stuff… and I am not sure about stationary data, but it might as well be gnome-stuff.

    This explains very well the geek experience of computing, and of the Internet in general. Like the elementals, the computer presents itself to us as curious, playful, innocent and mallice free; in other words as child-like. But as most of the readership well knows, giving children free reign over adult matters will rapidly result in disaster; now think of the perpetual tax on global economic activity imposed by the use of computing technology. It is also mentioned in Levi’s text that the mage that does not reign the passions within is to be run by the elementals and pushed towards even greater imbalances. This is what I have observed to happen to the geek-osphere over the course of my adult life.

    For some time I have pondered what types of souls are being given the opportunity to incarnate as computer-stuff. If this is the case, is this an evolutionary deadend, once we humans exhaust the resources needed to deploy computer technology into the world?

  30. This chapter and post were useful reminders to treat the elements in my daily SOP as conscious beings, and to relate with them respectfully. Some days when I am more tired than usual or when I know a lot will happen that day I can end up doing the SOP in a more rote way, and forget this important point.

    Looking forward to any clues in later chapters as to the nature of Spirits Above, Below, and Within. Not that I don’t already have ideas about these from my own meditations.

  31. @Jeff: The Taylor book is on my list of ones to read and get a personal copy of. I’ll check out his appearance on the Plant Cunning Podcast. Isaac & co always do a good job. Thanks for the tip!

    As for natal chart… I seem to have a preponderance of fire, with three major planets and a sun conjunct in a fire, and then some other major placements, such as rising sign in water, and moon in an air sign. There is no planet in an earth sign in my chart. Sometimes I need some help staying grounded, and have often gravitated to friendships with people whose sun or rising signs are in earth.

    Luckily I had some cool old hippie neighbors when I was a teenager. They’d not only get me stoned and feed me good vegetarian stir frys, but they cast my natal chart as well. I don’t smoke weed any more, but when I was fifteen and sixteen it was literally dope! It was great when they moved in. One of those people who opened some doors for me…

    I’m still close friends with this person. He dosen’t smoke anymore either, or not much, and he recently completed a course at a local astrology school. I gave him a copy of Twilight of Pluto for his birthday. But I should see if he’d be willing to do a progressed chart for me…

    He and another friend that he introduced me to were also into the Five Rites, and I’ll have another JMG book to share with these old hippies later this year. I plan to get several copies of that tome.

  32. Levi told us in the Introduction of the Doctrine half that Oedipus only knew half of the riddle of the Sphinx. What is the other half?

    This chapter’s discussion on the elements reminds me that The Sphinx is comprised of the four fixed signs of the zodiac: Lion-Leo; Eagle-Scorpio; Man-Aquarius; Bull-Taurus. Each of these represents an element. Fire, Water, Air and Earth, respectively. Why the four fixed signs? Perhaps because the cardinal and mutable signs in each element borders a different element.

    And Levi’s first chapter that has rituals in it is based on the elements. This makes me think that elements play a much more important role than I had thought. And the other half of the riddle of the Sphinx might be to master the elements within yourself. Oedipus had not mastered the elements and it brought a plague to Thebes. Disease was thought to be an imbalance in the body.

    One can also add that alchemists work with the elements within us to refine them.

    This is not elemental at all!

  33. @RandomActsofKarma

    The tarot cards don’t seem to correspond in any neat and orderly array on the Tree, do they? That makes me think I’m wrong about them. The Lovers, The High Priestess and The Hierophant would give a good symmetry onto Tiphareth. But how do those three correspond to Levi’s cube and to your hexagram?

    The Hierophant, The High Priestess and Justice might combine to make The World, since that is the remaining card in the Knapp-Hall deck that has a red background. But it’s probably not the Great Arcanum.

  34. Hey JMG

    It just so happens that I have meditated on some of the elemental prayers as described in your “Circles of power”, and which are described in their original form in this chapter of Levi’s book.
    I can’t explain everything I have found, but I will offer a insight I’ve gleaned from the following verse from “the prayer to the Sylphs.”

    “…and no more shall we be swept away by the tempest, but we shall hold onto the bridles of the winged steeds of dawn, and direct the course of the evening breeze to fly before thee.”

    “Tempest” can be interpreted as Air in a unbalanced and chaotic state, qliphotic even, and “holding onto the bridles of the winged steeds of dawn” is gaining control of the element of Air in its most active and powerful aspect, “directing the course of the evening breeze” means controlling its more passive aspect. These last 2 verses can also be interpreted as gaining the power to invoke and banish Air at will.
    Ergo the meaning of this verse is that of the Mage gaining power over Air, and thus no longer being dominated by its negative aspects.

  35. This reminds me of yet another example of “the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea” (as if we needed more). Feminist witches of the 70s – 80s noticed this tradition of dominating and commanding the Elementals and decided it was patriarchal co-option of the loving, peaceful, collaborative Goddess Religion. Although most of them turned to “inviting” and “releasing” the Elements instead of ordering them around, one wrote a song that was (and maybe still is) widely used to close Wiccan circles, which tells the Elements to “Stay if you will, but if you must go/We bid you farewell, farewell, farewell.” My Dianic teachers, to give credit where it’s due, firmly disagreed with letting Elementals hang around indefinitely, and said that if we wanted to use that song we needed to change that line to “Go as you must, blessing our will” or something like that.

    Now, I have to admit I don’t know of any disasters directly linked to using that song, but it certainly sounds like asking for trouble to me. My teachers did have some fun stories of consequences when people do things like forget to close their circle properly. Like, for instance, inadvertently hosting a fire elemental party in their apartment after they’d all gone to bed, I’m sure we’ve all heard that one…

  36. More thoughts on the Cube:

    A 3D cube can be represented as a 2D net. The 2D net can be arranged so it looks like a sideways Tau. (

    A Lord of Flame (in the Greek pantheon, Ouranos) is an Aleph. His Heh is Gaia. They create a Lord of Form (Kronos), a Yod. Krono’s Heh is Rhea, and we have AHYH (“I will be”).

    Kronos and Rhea create a Lord of Mind (Zeus), a Vau. Zeus had lots of Heh’s, but I went with Demeter, since she is the mother of Persephone (and Persephone is the mother of Zagreus, and Zagreus is reborn as Dionysus and in some traditions, Persephone represents the Soul and Dionysus represents the Spirit).

    (Psyche often represents the Soul of Man, but Persephone represents the Soul of the World, and Levi refers to “the soul of the world” as the Universal Agent, so there is more to unpack here. Eventually.)

    Kronos-Rhea-Zeus-Demeter is YHVH (“I am”). The net can fold up into a cube and the YHVH circles around, creating a version of the Ouroboros; Levi described the serpent as “a circulus of an uncontrolled life”. (

    But a Priest who can create his own Cube and a King who can rule over his own Cube is a Mage (see JMG’s commentary for Chapter 1), a Magician, an Aleph, with *conscious control* (hat tip to @ Jon G!). He is no longer on the circulus (The Wheel). I envision the Mage’s Cube as being inside the original Cube. (

    So the Emperor is a King who is in control of his Cube. The Priest is the Hierophant who made his Cube.

    And that’s as far as I’ve gotten so far.

  37. I am searching for the ingredients to make Levi’s incense. White rosin is easily found in rodeo shops (they use it to strengthen their grip for the bull rides.) Camphor and sulfur are easy to get, too. But I can’t seem to find any ‘sap of a bay tree.’ I can find Bay Laurel leaf essential oil. Any idea if that works?

  38. @Jon G,

    I agree… I have seen so many versions of Tarot card/Tree alignment, I don’t think there is a neat and orderly array. 🙂

    I have some thoughts that are related to your question, but they aren’t well-organized yet.

    I agree that the Emperor is Will. Today I had the thought that the Hierophant is Imagination. If the Mage is a priest and a king (and the priest invokes the astral light and the king controls the creation), Will and Imagination could work. One of JMG’s comments was that “imagination…is the capacity to create forms through which the light of understanding can pass.” The fourth Sphere (Emperor?) would be right pillar; the fifth Sphere (Hierophant) would be left pillar. Left pillar is about creating forms, so it seems to fit. (But we’ll see if it still seems right after the next chapter.)

    For the High Priestess, I had another understanding today that takes some background. In the intro in the book The Virgin of the World, they quote Thomas Taylor as saying the Juno (Hera) is the fountain of souls, Minerva (Athena) is the foundation of virtues, and Diana (Artemis) is the fountain of Nature. I had previously “mapped” Hera to Chokmah because one of her epitaphs was Queen of Heavens, mostly because I really thought she needed to be somewhere on the Tree and Demeter made much more sense as Malkuth. But today (when pondering The Cube), I realized that a fountain “goes out” (ie, centrifugal), so a fountain would be on the right pillar. And souls are ‘spiritual’ (as opposed to the other items in one of Levi’s trines, nature and society). Virtues would definitely align with society; nature would definitely align with nature. (And in my Tree metaphor, Athena is Chesed, which is also right pillar.) (Artemis is Yesod, middle pillar, so that doesn’t fit as well.) (But Hera as ‘fountain of souls’ plays very nicely with my Herakles’ meditations!)

    Re: the Great Arcanum, one of JMG’s comments was that the Great Magical Agent has a fourfold significance. Levi had them as heat, light, electricity, and magnetism; JMG had more modern names, but also described is a “the fourfold nature of force in the material cosmos”. I can see heat, light, etc., as the four Elements and the Great Magical Agent (when it gets to Malkuth) manifests as the four Elements.

    As far as aligning the Tarot to the Cube or hexagram, I haven’t put much thought in that. God/Solomon could be 1 and 6 (both middle pillar), so the Magician and the Lovers (Solomon reunited his Spirit and Soul?). 2 and 5 would be High Priestess and Hierophant. Adam as a force and Heva (ending in Aleph) being the Magician. 3 and 4 would be Empress and Emperor. Empress feels like INRI; does the Emperor feel like AZOT/TARO? (Meh.)

    You have some intriguing ideas and questions and I shall enjoy pondering them some more.

  39. In another synchronicity, I just finished reading about the mineral kingdom and the elementals who aid the souls of the mineral kingdom to attune themselves with the laws of nature in the Occult Philosophy Workbook. In my meditations I imagined the elementals as the feedback loops in which air, energy, water, and earth participate. The feedback loops guide the ways in which all of these elements interact with each other. I can imagine corresponding feedback loops within the mage in which symbolic air, fire, water, and earth participate. By understanding how the internal feedback loops operate well enough to gain the power granted through appropriate use of them (“to accept the limits of a law is to gain the power to use that law”), the mage can by correspondence understand how to work with the feedback loops of the larger world.

    In the Dolmen Arch course, you said that the art of evocation can be used by initiates of the mysteries to guide elemental beings, but that that privilege comes with responsibilities and can be revoked at any time. I take it that the good relations that the Druid Revival established with the elemental kingdom that you mentioned above is what you were referring to in the DA course. When I read this in the DA course, and again here, the first thing that came to mind was the movie “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” and what happened when the apprentice thought he knew more than he did about working with the elements. It seems like a great visual demonstration of elementals gone wild through the evoking of them by one who does not know how to dominate them and doesn’t know himself well enough to keep them under control and to use their power wisely. The master certainly knew how to dominate them when he returned and saw the havoc that had been wrought!

  40. Jill, singing is certainly one way to do it! By all accounts elementals enjoy human singing.

    AliceEm, dreams are another place where these encounters can happen. That’s interesting that Taylor Swift is putting that kind of imagery into her videos; given that Britney Spears is apparently a fan of Lévi’s book, maybe there’s something going on among musicians.

    CR, I’ve been wondering for some time if those aspects of the computer sphere that aren’t simply demonic pure and simple are being used as toys by elementals. Computers do seem to respond the way the souls of the elements do.

    Jbucks, glad to hear it!

    Jon, good. Very good. It’s elemental, but it’s not elementary!

    J.L.Mc12, a good solid meditation.

    Sister Crow, oog. I hadn’t heard of that. Yeah, it’s a bad idea.

    Random, excellent!

    Jon, you could mix essential oil of bay laurel into sawdust and burn that, or you could simply buzz up some bay leaves in a coffee grinder and add that to your incense.

    SLClaire, exactly — and I’m sure you noticed how much of Lévi is included or referred to in The Occult Philosophy Workbook.

  41. Do elementals enjoy the singing of those of us who can’t carry a tune very well?

  42. @Jon G,

    Some more thoughts on the Cube…

    JMG (Paths of Wisdom) identifies the Spheres by element. The “fire” Spheres are 2, 5, and 7 (High Priestess, Hierophant, and Chariot), so that does not help with the why-they-have-a-red-background conundrum.

    If we consider the SOP as creating a Cube, would this work? (I haven’t done Dolmen Arch or Golden Section yet, so those may have ideas I haven’t considered.)
    –Spirit Above/Spirit Below would be Alpha/Omega or God/Solomon, Tiphareth and Malkuth (Air and Earth in POW);
    –Air/Water would be AZOT/INRI, Chesed and Netzach (Fire and Water in POW);
    –Fire/Earth would be ADAM/HEVA, Geburah and Hod (Fire and Water in POW).

    The Tarot, if we do Trump # equals Sphere:
    –God/Solomon = 6-The Lovers and 10-The Wheel
    –AZOT/INRI = 4-The Emperor and 7-The Chariot
    –ADAM/HEVA = 5-The Hierophant and 8-Justice

    Levi’s Pentagram had Jupiter on its head, representing Justice. So those fit together (since Pentagram is 5 and Hierophant is 5).

    The Charioteer is in control of his body and will, so that goes nicely with the Emperor.

    To become as a God, the alchemist must complete the alchemical marriage (uniting soul and spirit), so God and the Lovers work. It would seem that Solomon would have been off the Wheel, since he was an accomplished Mage, but maybe you technically aren’t off the Wheel if you still have a material body.

    I think God/Solomon would align to Levi’s Mystical/Divine World, AZOT/INRI would align to Levi’s Natural/Physical/Material World (because controlling the Will seems more like a Nature thing to me), and ADAM/HEVA would align to Society/Metaphysical/Moral World (because Justice seems like a Moral thing). (So it would be like Consciousness manifested on three levels (sub-planes?).)

    To go back to your Will/Wisdom/Love triad, Love goes with God/Solomon, Will goes with AZOT/INRI (and the Emperor), and Wisdom goes with ADAM/HEVA (and the Hierophant).

    What do you think? This wasn’t a proper meditation, so I’m sure there are thoughts that could be refined.

  43. Hi John Michael,

    Oh! I’d had some rather strong examples of failure, and considered the practical alternatives. I’ve long since presumed that the definition of magic reflects what you mentioned, but am not really entirely sure? Anyway, the only will I seek to shape, flex and strengthen is my own. And then go from there and then work. More work. Lot’s of work.

    It’s satisfying, but I’m not entirely certain most other people would see things that way. Dunno.



  44. Your Kittenship, curiously enough, yes. The elementals don’t hear the sounds, they feel the emotional vibration that comes through the singing, and that’s what they like. (Or don’t, if the person’s a slimebag.)

    Chris, no, most people don’t see things that way, which is why they get to make use of the self-operated butt-kicking machine of karma until they finally figure it out.

  45. Thanks, JMG. I should have said it’s not elementary! I have bay leaves on hand, so it’s just a matter of gathering the other items and experimenting.

  46. I’ll sing to them! God bless them if they won’t object. I.’ll sing the ones where I can hold the tune, e.g. Tom Dooley—🎼I met her on the mountain, there I took her life…”🎼. I got a lot of practice on that one because it was the only one that would reliably put baby Sonkitten to sleep when he was fussy. Them was the good old days. Now he’ll allow me maybe half a song and then say firmly, “Mom, stop singing now.” (The autistic are mot noted for their tact,). And I can’t really object because I do wander off key on many songs in English. Strangely enough, I have much less trouble with songs in Spanish.❓

  47. Hey JMG

    I’m glad you liked my comment, since it make me feel that my meditations are better and more sophisticated than I thought they were.
    Moving on from the prayers, I have I few questions relating to the other aspects of Levi’s book.
    1-I noticed that in the original ritual for the creation of holy water he provides a separate blessing for the water, ash and salt, but in you circles of power you omit the blessing for the water but keep the rest of the ritual more or less the same. Why did you do this?
    2-Something I have wondered concerning the incense is how pleasant it would smell considering sulphur is one of the ingredients. I have burned sulphur before so I can say that you would definitely want to ensure that the other ingredients overpowered it, which may be the reason for the Bay resin.
    3-why does Levi state that all divination is dangerous because it discourages the Will?

  48. About the dismissal of the elementals. I don’t know about the song, but all the years I was in Albuquerque’s Witches/Pagans community, everybody dismissed the quarters with “Go if you must,stay if you will, hail and farewell.” They used the same formula to say farewell to the God and the Goddess, by whatever names whoever was leading the ritual used. The latter bothered me because it seemed disrespectful, but not the former, not knowing any better.

    However, in some small circles, whoever was East might lead off with”Powers of the East,Spirits of air,” and the next person in line would invoke “ancestors …” or … until there was no continuity at all. That bothered my OCD streak a LOT.

  49. “The Conjuration of the Four is a banishing ritual; its purpose is to restore balance in the elemental kingdoms and chase off elemental beings who are harassing human beings.”

    I didn’t read this until today, but your post came out on the same day as the Lahaina fire. Of course fires happen all the time but this one being closer to home and full of odd consequences, it makes me wonder about what was going on in the unseen that caused the Salamanders erase the town. Also we’re starting to hear the stories of people who escaped vs those who did not, and this tragedy highlights the practical applications of magic that go beyond philosophical enlightenment. I’m praying for the people over there and feel their anguish on the astral, but your quote above makes me wonder if there’s something more I could have done if my practice was further along. That might be ego talking, but a lot of us are dealing with feelings of helplessness right now.

  50. Jon, I’ve used powdered bay leaves as incense with good results, for what it’s worth.

    Your Kittenship, they’ll be pleased.

    J.L.Mc12, (1) Levi’s ritual has been modified by later mages; the version I included in the book was one that I learned early on in my magical training. I’m not sure why it got edited the way it did, but it works well. (2) Oh, it stinks to high heaven. I wouldn’t use more than a tiny pinch. (3) A lot of people make the mistake of thinking of divination as something that requires the future to be fixed in advance — and that’s damaging to the will. Properly understood, divination reveals possibilities, but that wasn’t a common understanding in Lévi’s time.

    KVD, if the salamanders decided that it was time for Lahaina to cease to exist, you probably couldn’t have stopped them, though you might have helped more people get to safety. They are obedient to other spiritual powers, and I suspect those were involved here.

  51. KVD, and JMG,
    My wife grew up in Lahaina as did her family back to 1885 when they came from Japan to work the sugar cane fields. She is in touch with many of her high school friends who still live in Lahaina or on Maui. Many are still looking for loved ones. The spiritual topic that comes up between these folks ( both natives and multi-generational transplants like my wife) is what they might have done to anger Madam Pele. For those not familiar with the Hawaiian spiritual world, Madam Pele is the goddess of volcanos and fire.
    Many years ago when visiting the Islands one of my young sons ( 7 or 8) picked up a rock when we were sightseeing at the top of Haleakala and put it in his pocket. We did not discover it until we had gotten back home to Oregon. My mother in law ( living with us at the time) went in to a panic and got me to immediately ship the rock back to a relative on Maui who drove it up to the top of the Volcano and put it back. To Hawaiians, keeping the rock from the Volcano would have angered Pele. There are rumors going around my wife’s high school friends that one of the newcomers from the mainland had scooped up several buckets of rocks from the volcano and used it in their new garden wall in Lahaina.
    For those wishing to help with prayers or spiritual powers it might be useful to direct them towards the recovery of the Historic Banyan tree in the center of Lahaina. It holds much spiritual significance and magical powers for both native Hawaiians and long term residents. It survived the fire but is badly damaged and its recovery is possible but by no means certain.

  52. Hi John Michael,

    That’s funny, and thanks for the laughs. 🙂

    The belief in a fixed future is I believe another way to sap one’s will. That’s progress for ya! It’s as silly as what adults used to tell me when I was a young bloke. ‘Chris’, they’d say with a certain air of gravitas: ‘you can do anything’. It all sounded like a big call to me, so instead I chose to do what I will. 😉 I’m sure you know the feeling.

    Hey, I’m reading a really lovely book at the moment (this does relate), it’s ‘The Air Raid Book Club’. For a novel covering a difficult period of history, it really is quite charming. Anyway, each chapter begins with a quote, and just after I read your comment, I read the following quote from the author Herman Melville, of Moby Dick Fame. Here goes: Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run.”



  53. Dear JMG thank you for this great read!

    Recently I completed a personal research project and essay where I connected the way that Vitruvius saw the four elements in building materials and St Maximus the confessors discussion of the four elements and the souls journey towards the logos in his ambigua 21. In the context of Levi, one thing that stood out was how Vitruvius saw most species of wood as combinations of elements, usually with two dominant elements cohabitating. This corresponded with St Maximus’ development of the virtues as combinations of elements moving towards union: Fire/understanding + Earth/justice = Wisdom (the limit of what can be known), Air/courage + Water/Temperance = Gentleness (the limit of what can be practiced). Wisdom+Gentleness = Love. The eucharist itself can also be seen in this light (bread = air+earth, wine=fire+water) Another insight was that for St Maximus Understanding combines the senses of sight and hearing, which is relevant when considering the effects of media on disassociating intellective perception from vision. The point simply was that Vitruvius showed how these elements are perceptible in the world as cohabitating combinations. The practice of using the embodied imagination to sense matter being composed of these elements translates to a useful inner sense. Would you see this type of practice as a useful attunement to the elements in the context of Levi’s ritual magic?
    I presented the paper at an architectural conference this past June, but it fell on largely deaf ears. Your thoughts or comments on that connection with Levi would be very interesting.

    all the best,


  54. @ Justin Patrick Moore: may I ask what “regular practice of TSW type S” refers to? I am not familiar with the acronym.

    Thank you also for your essay on tattooing which I appreciated. I would be interested to hear about your views on the magical qualities of the schmisse or dueling scars, carried by Germans and Austrians of high rank up to the modern day. I raise this as a tattoos, like schmisse, can be ritualised scarification.

    @ JMG: thank you for your advice. In saying, “mastery of the elements isn’t something you do and then it’s done with; it’s something that must always be worked on”, does this relate somewhat to the Rosicrucian exhortation to be constantly aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and actions?

    I would liken this to running a virus check in the background on one’s personal computer. Does this seem like an apt metaphor: a gentle process running to ensure one is not subject to damaging third party thoughts and emotions?

  55. Hello everybody I am back to the comment section. Things were bad for me over the last few months so I couldn’t comment, (lot’s of personal reasons). Just an anouncement that I am here.
    Hope JMG will not ban me or something.

  56. Clay, thanks for this. My Japanese-American stepfamily has deep roots on Oahu, so I picked up a certain amount of this from them.

    Chris, that sounds very like Captain Ahab — and it’s good advice, so long as the purpose is a good one…

    Stephane, is that essay available anywhere? I would welcome the chance to read it, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Yes, the concept of architecture as a mode of magic is valid, and a great deal of what sometimes gets labeled “sacred geometry” is all about that.

    Joseph, exactly.

    Boy, good. Yes, very much so, and that metaphor works well.

    Wer, yes, I thought we’d hear from you again about now. As for being banned, why, that depends on how closely you follow the rules.

  57. @Stephane Gaulin-Brown (#53):

    I, too, would very much like to read this essay of yours. St. Maximus the Confessor indeed! I’d wager few of your fellow architectual historians had ever so much as heard his name mentioned before.

    (BTW, the experience of one’s innovative scholarship falling on deaf ears at a conference, and its published form nevert being cited by any fellow scholar, is pretty common. It’s happened to me more than once. Academics are just people; by and large, deep thinking takes too much work for their tastes.)

  58. Hi John Michael,

    Yes, true. A person can be entirely rational, and commit the most atrocious acts.

    Hey, way off topic, but China sneezes and we all catch a cold! I’ve been wondering for a while now whether the land of stuffs switch to trading in other currencies is something which is being picked up in the reported numbers. Possibly they’re running a two tier economy now. How else can such huge drops in GDP numbers be explained without the rumbles of social change? Possibly there are other explanations, but one should not dismiss the obvious just because it is unpalatable.



  59. @Boy… I know it is late in the cycle of this post, so I hope you get it. (I was busy all day yesterday and haven’t had a chance to check back on the discussion until now.)

    What is “TSW type S”? Good question. I know the first part is “this sh* works” or as JMG would have it “This Shale Works” type S might have been a typo or incomplete thought/sentence on my part for which I apologize. That happens a lot when I write something up quickly. Unlike my essays (which also do and have mistakes) my comments here get a lot less revision! I guess it could have meant This Shale Works type Shale… I could see myself thinking that.

    Thanks for your kind comments on the tattoo article. I’m glad you find it helpful. I am a little more than halfway through writing up the follow up on piercings. I don’t happen to know anything about schmisse or dueling scars. That’s totally new to me, but I will look it up as time allows, as there may be another part in the series I’m writing on body modifications in general, and that could fit in there.

    There is the adage in writing “Write what you know” but I have always enjoyed “write what you don’t know” and used nonfiction writing as a chance to learn about a topic that interests me. And for what it is worth I actually don’t have any tattoos or piercings, though my wife does and many of my friends other loved ones do. I have thought of getting my ears pierced though. So I don’t have the personal experience of either of these things and am writing about it as a way to know what I don’t know -and these are part of a larger writing project. I’ll post the links to that as they come out.

    Thanks again for your interest, kind words and the tip on scarification!

  60. @ Justin Patrick Moore,

    Thank you for your considered response. With regards to: “This Scarification Works”, I’d be intrigued to know what number of western tattoo owners think their tattoos are imbued with magical powers or come to realize that the tattoo and its creation set off a weird series of serendipitous coincidences…

  61. @Stephane Gaulin-Brown (#62):

    Thank you so much! I have downloaded it and will read it tomorrow or the next day.

  62. @ Stephane Gaulin-Brown (#62): Thank you for sharing this work…looking forward to reading it. Maximus’s incarnation theology seems a pivotal flowering of Dionysian metaphysics as well as acting as a kind of bridge to previous (Neo)Platonic thought…IMO a vital way of regarding the Logos manifested in the cosmos. Intrigued by how this can be traced back to Vitruvius!


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