This article was originally written for a “flavour” article in a friend’s Dictionary of Demons book. The format of the book changed and my articles got cut, though some the information was still incorporated into the book. I’ve slightly edited it from the original format to be a bit more personal and experiential rather than just cold theory.
The Circle is probably one of the most important, and misunderstood tools in the arsenal of a magickian who works with Demons. Anyone who has flipped through a text on summoning Angels or Demons has come across a Summoning Circle, but probably with no more explanation than the method of drawing it, and that the circle is important to use.
Over the course of time the design of the circle has changed, and the importance of it has shifted. In modern magick, more than ever, the circle is being deemed unimportant, or simplistic. The Summoning Circle is being replaced by Psychic Shields, or ritual belts, or a simple visualized bubble. This shows, among other things, a tendency to interpret the Summoning Circle as merely a form of protection when dealing with Demons, when in fact it is far more than just that in some interpretations.
Before the modern interpretation of the Summoning Circle, the most common alternative Circle was published in the Mathers/Crowley translation of the Goetia. This circle was written over the image of a spiralling snake with the names of each of the Sephiroth, with the Names of Gods, Angels and Forces associated with each Sephiroth. This was an adaption, or a simplification of an earlier form of Summoning Circle that appeared in one of the earliest serving texts on Summoning Demons, the Heptameron.
In the Heptameron, which is a Grimoire that predates the Goetia, the Summoning Circle was at once the most simple and most complex form it would take. The Heptameron styled Circle was not a constant Circle like the other ones, in the sense that the design changed depending on the Season, the Day of the Week, and the Hour of the Day. In each case of Season, Day and Hour, there is a set of Angels associated with that period, and with the Heptameron system, to create the Circle, one must know and use the Names of the Angels associated with each of these periods. The belief was that each Angel had a period of power, and through working with that Angel in their ruling period, you had the ability to control the other Spirits in your work. I find there is something about skilfully directing your attention to specific forces and Spirits to create your Circle, rather than just toss out all the Names you can think of to cover everything. In magick when you have a goal you direct your attention to the appropriate entities, you don’t call upon everyone you know to help you get a job or deal with an abusive co-worker that would complicate matters.
The Construction of the Summoning Circle, when interpreted through the lens of Qabalistic Magick, revels that the Circle is much more than just a form of protection. The following section presumes the most basic familiarity with the Qabalah and the structure of the Tree of Life, which can be picked up in any introductory text. The world that we live and operate in is Malkuth, and represented by the number ten. The Sephiroth above us is Yesod, which is represented by the number nine. The Summoning Circle has an outer circle of nine feet, representing the demarcation of the world we live in, and the magical world involved in the magic. Above Yesod is Hod, which is represented by the number eight, above that Netzach represented by the number seven, then Tiphareth represented by the number six. Within the nine foot circle, there are three smaller circles, each a foot less than the one before, the magickian stands in the smallest circle that is six feet across. The magickian is in the circle of six feet, surrounded by seven, eight, nine, and lastly the entire world beyond.
It is in Tiphareth, that the human can first truly touch the Divine in a pure form. In every Sphere below Tiphareth the Divine is only accessed in a filtered form, like coloured light from a stained glass window, whereas in Tiphareth the Divine flows down uninterrupted, like the sunlight before it hits the coloured glass. By standing in the concentric circles, surrounded by the appropriate Names, the magician identifies their place in the Universe. The first Circle of Yesod separates the magical realms, from what is outside of it, Malkuth, the world of the day to day existence. In the centre circle the magician identifies their place in Tiphareth, the place of their direct connection with the Divine.
In this sense it is understood that the magician is not operating through the power of the Angels, but by knowing what Angel and God Names to surround themselves with, the magician is able to gain access and place themselves in a higher sphere, that of Tiphareth; this grants the magician access to all the power that the Divine will bestow on them. The power is no longer that of the Angels, but that of the Magickian, in their most Divine Aspect.
This Qabalistic interpretation of the Summoning Circle focuses more on the empowerment of the magickian than just their protection. This is not to deny the role of protection in the circle, but it is a manifestation of the magicians Divine Will that they are protected, rather than simply being protected and aided by outside forces. The protection the Circle offers is through the magician becoming a conscious manifestation of the Divine in this world, and it is this same access to Divinity that is what grants them the power to control the Spirits. It isn’t about threats and borrowed power, but existing in the natural order of things and helping to bring the Spirits into line with that order through the tasks they are given.
I don’t know if it was merely a confidence boost as I started to uncover this system and interpretation of the Circle but I’ve found my workings more successful and easier with this Circle. Before I felt like I was grappling with some power and trying to wrangle it to keep the Goetic entities under control, but now when I work with them it feels more relaxed, I don’t need to really control them because their obedience is a natural part of the Divine order which I’m consciously accessing. The best way of explaining it sometimes is almost Taoist in nature, that in the Circle I’m in Tao and the Goetic obedience is part of that Tao, no force, no struggle, simply nature taking its course. As with all things I think people should at least try it out, see what they think of this style of Circle. I’ve explained the why, and you can find the how in the Heptameron. Personally mine is slightly altered from the Heptameron but the theory behind it is the same.
It is not just the nature of practices that change over time but the understanding of practices, the whys get lost in the whats. Tracing a practice to earlier times occasionally leads to a now irrelevant practice but can also lead the magickian to a greater understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing in the modern form.