Apparently it came as a surprise (at least to someone) when I mentioned, in my about page, that I’m a practicing chaos magician. So. I am. There you are. I’m writing today not to talk about that generally but to talk about the practice of invocation specifically, and how it can be useful to you — as well as how it’s useful to dealing with stories and symbols.
Invocation is, in general terms, the practice of self-possession. You draw down (or up, or whatever) a spirit, ghost, demon, god, or elemental into yourself. This is the reverse (sort of) of evocation, in which you produce a spirit externally — and depending on how you view this whole magic thing, from yourself, so it’s an outward-going instead of an indwelling. Crowley wrote (in Magick in Theory and Practice) that invoking a god comes in stages. You speak to them like your boss; then you speak to them like your friend; then you speak to them like your lover; then, finally, you speak of them as though speaking about yourself. The process is pretty clear: you first envision the god (or whatever) as, well, a god: above you, powerful, frightening, deserving of immense respect and even fear. Then you transition to thinking of them as a friend, still respectful, but closer. Then the lover makes them intimate with you, closer still, coming together almost, but not quite, in one unit. Then, finally, you assimilate the god-form into yourself for a time.
There are tons of examples of invocation we could talk about. One of the most commonly-discussed is Voodoo loa, god-spirits summoned into priestesses and priests, riding them like a knight rides a horse. Many shamanic traditions use masks to help with the transition. Those possessed by invoked spirits often report a blank in their memory, no knowledge of what they did, and a feeling of power going through them.
There are also lots of reasons to invoke something. Divination, for instance — who better to see the future than the god who is writing it? Enchantment, perhaps — the god is certainly more powerful than you, and can do a lot of things. Even just communion or shoring up of personality defects (if you’re too passive, for instance, you could invoke Aries for a while and get good at getting mad).
But, it’s not just gods you can invoke, you know.
I’m going to crib from my academic work for a minute here. Dion Fortune was one of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century occultists who wrote about a concept called a thought-form. A thought-form is any concept that’s so believed in that it becomes real. We could be really abstract and talk about stuff like “justice” or “the legal system” when we talk about thought-forms — things that have a kind of external, objective presence even though they have no objective reality (in the traditional sense of that word, at least — it’s my opinion that they are certainly “real” as the distinction between real and irreal is pretty much meaningless).
I said we could talk about that stuff. Let’s talk about comic books instead.
What’s Superman’s real name? What does he look like? How does he wear his underwear?
Can you answer those questions? Of course. Have you ever read a Superman comic? Maybe, maybe not. Superman exists outside his own comics (movies/games/etc). He is a thought-form given life by the combined belief of generations of human beings. Terry Pratchett used Santa Claus as his example in Hogfather — if you immediately recognize a picture of Santa Claus, can tell me where he lives and what he does, then how can you claim he’s not real? He is more real to you than someone you’ve never met that objectively exists on the other side of the planet. So, too, Superman.
And I’ve invoked Superman.
I didn’t want to just talk in generalities in this post. So hopefully it won’t bore you if I talk about things I’ve actually done. Regarding invocation, they include
- invoking Superman when I feel like students are horrible monsters, so I can remember they’re confused human beings and I am the one with the training and the skill to help them navigate what confuses them
- (I did the above with Doctor Who, too)
- invoking Batman when I needed confidence and the ability to function on less then four hours of sleep on a job interview
- invoking a generic faith healer / medicine man to exorcise my house of a creepypasta
- invoking Zatanna late at night, surrounded by comic books in mylar bags, when I wanted to learn more about magic (yes, hence the header image)
That last one might count as evoking instead. I didn’t behave as Zatanna, but instead heard her speak. She’s ever so slightly sarcastic, but nice. And she always has something very useful to say about personal magic practice and how to nudge it along (particularly when it comes to what, exactly, my goals actually are).
So. Here’s the point where it’s probably sensible to provide a how-to? Let’s take Superman. Superman’s easy. Read some Superman comics. Watch a movie (that’s optional). But definitely watch some Youtube clips. Put on some music from the soundtracks of the movies or the Justice League cartoon. Stand in a cleared space, surrounded by Superman images. Also anything you can get your hands on that makes you think of Superman. A cape, some Underoos, a shield, a can of bryl-cream, whatever works for you. Then address Superman. Talk about what you want. I’m not going to tell you what to say, I almost always hate the dialogue meant for rituals in any books of magic. If you’re into fanciness, though, you may consider addressing him by his “true” name, Kal-El, son of Jor-El. That’s suitably ritual-sounding. Stand like Superman. If you don’t have a good eye for visual details, basically it’s confident but unimposing (Superman doesn’t need to try to be imposing, he just is). Chest out, arms back, neck straight. Look forward into the future like you know everything there will be challenging but, in the end, successes. Now say what you are going to do.
That’s basically it. If you know anything about magic ritual you can adapt this bare-bones structure to your preferred format. It can take anywhere between ten minutes and two hours, depending on how you like to do it (this would be excluding any meditative or excitatory states you enter first, to get into the ritual-makin’ frame of mind).
Now how is this helpful at all? If you’re not into personally invoking spirits of comic book characters into your frail human body, why does this post matter to you?
Why does invocation work? Is there an actual spirit somewhere in the world that the magician can force off its sparkling throne (or pile of skulls or whatever) and into his or her body? It doesn’t actually matter, is the answer.
Invocation is the practice of identifying yourself with an icon of a virtue you want or need. All your life you have been attuning yourself to some image, some thought-form, be it Jesus Christ or John Wayne. Put on your favorite rock star and listen to your accent change. Watch your favorite movie and pay attention to your body language. Spirits, thought-forms, are invoked in us all the time. Invocation as a practice is simply the “deliberate” action — do it for yourself, to yourself, rather than having it done to you. This is one answer to the eternal question, “what is the point of studying art?” Art is the clearing-house for invocation subjects. Somewhere you will find a thought-form strong enough to hold up to invocation, and you can build up a library to craft the person you want and need to be. Why do you think so many people take so seriously the curation of their entertainment?
It also illustrates part of the way art actually functions. It takes up space in your mind and alters, ever so slightly, the way you think. I’ve seen it called the “other-I,” the “me” inside you that’s not you, but the person constructed by the art. That person isn’t the artist, or the character, but it isn’t really you either. You work together with the art to reconfigure a partitioned section of yourself into a new you, an I that matches the art — Robert Anton Wilson was fond of calling art a record of the artist’s nervous system at the time of creation. You “play” the record inside yourself, coming as close as one can to experiencing someone else. Invocation works because you can partition yourself, create new yous.
And the final lesson is, unsurprisingly, that you are an invoked thought-form. It’s “easy” (compared to, say, lifting a boulder with your mind) to reconfigure yourself into something completely new. I used to engage in that pastime of young thinkers everywhere — explaining all my bad habits by telling stories of things that happened to me. But no one was standing next to me and forcing me to act like a dick. It’s hard, goodness knows, but you can alter yourself in any way you see fit.
This post happened because I wanted to write something about David Bowie. I couldn’t think of a way to really helpfully talk about Bowie. So instead I wrote this piece about personal transformation, because that seems like one of the things he lent to the world — his acumen at transformation. You can do it too! And you don’t have to order anything out of the back of a comic book.