Invoking the Images of the Gods: The Techniques of Daimonic Magic

By Michael Freedman

Since the days of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, certain high magicians have used the use the techniques of daimonic magic to draw down the planetary and other cosmic influences. These techniques are referred to, usually obliquely, in the Hermetica, which were ancient Graeco-Egyptian esoteric and magical writings, lost for centuries and rediscovered at the beginning of the Renaissance. One of them, "The Perfect Word", describes the gods of the cosmos:

"There are certain gods apprehensible by thought alone, who rule over all departments of the universe. Subordinate to them are the gods or daimones. The daimones are the gods who make all things throughout the universe, working one through another, each pouring the light of life into those things they make. The Ruler of Heaven and of all things in the divine world is Zeus Hypatos (the Highest). Pantomorphos (Every-Shape) is the Ruler of the Decans, the thirty-six stars called the horoscope. Pantomorphos gives the individuals of each kind their diverse forms. The seven spheres or planets have as their Ruler the god Eimarmenen (Fortune), who changes everything all the time using the laws of natural growth. Spiritus is the organ through which gods work. To the Ruler of Air, Zeus Neatos (the Lowest), belongs the region between heaven and earth. Earth and sea are ruled by Zeus Chthonios (Earthly World), who supplies nutriment to all mortal beings that have soul. It is by this power that the fruits of the earth and sea are produced. There are other gods as well, whose powers and operations are spread through all things that exist."

The Gods or Daimones of the Decans

The decans refer to the division of the circle of the heavens into 36 ten-degree sections, three to each sign of the zodiac. The oldest surviving depiction of the daimones or gods of the decans is in a zodiac painted on the ceiling of a chapel of Osiris within the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, built around 300 b.c.e. They are the standing figures arranged around the inside of the circumference of the inner circle in the zodiac.

An important shift in the meaning of the word daimon (pronounced dye-moan) has taken place. In classical Greece, a daimon was a god, or one's own inner genius or guiding spirit. It was benevolent and inspiring. In modern esoteric language, this is the Holy Guardian Angel or Highest Self. During the early centuries of the common era, Christianity, the new state religion of the Roman Empire, had to fight to resist the return of the older religions of Greece, Rome, Egypt and Persia. It did its best to destroy all knowledge of one's own inner daimon or god. God was to be sought only through the One Church. In so doing, Christianity acted no worse than other religions. Every religion tends to exalt its own gods, and to regard the gods of other religions as evil demons.

When Renaissance scholars rediscovered the hermetic writings in the 15th century, most of them saw the Greek word daimon used of the gods of the cosmos by the ancients, but read it in the contemporary meaning of demon, a devil or evil spirit. As a result of this mistake, many avoided the hermetic writings as devil worship, while others grasped for the power and wealth which they thought the ability to control demons would give them.

From this error came the grimoires which saw the ancient magical and theurgic rituals to align with the daimones or powers of the cosmos as nothing more than spells to gain power over evil demons to force them to do the will of the magician.


Demonic Magic

In the western world, immature people have from time to time taken up devil worship and have deliberately invoked powers of evil and destruction in order to gain the things which they feel they have been denied by their society, their families or their religion. Most such folk have had puritan or fundamentalist religious backgrounds. The grimoires of the 17th and 18th centuries largely come from those countries where Christianity was most repressive. They are a mixture of prayers to God and Jesus on the one hand, and to the Devil and legions of demons on the other. Their authors sought short cuts to power and luxury, as long as they could go back on their pacts with the Devil at the last moment. It doesn't work like that. Those who involve themselves with the destructive forces cannot help but destroy themselves.

Some modern occultists, usually those reacting against a childhood upbringing by rigid fundamentalist Christian parents, choose to worship the god whom those religions call Satan. It has been said, "You have to be a Christian, before you can become a Satanist." Few Satanists are any more evil or destructive than the average human being. Most of them actually worship the god Pan, even if they have got the name wrong. Life, especially in the world of the occult, is never simple; human beings and their beliefs are wondrously complicated and rarely consistent.

Renaissance Daimonic Magic

Some Renaissance scholars looked beyond the prejudices of their era and saw the eternal truths within the hermetic wisdom. They revived daimonic magic as a healing art and as a means to alignment with the cosmic powers. The first was Marsilio Ficino, who translated the Hermetica for the Pope in 1463.

The most magical of these hermetic scholars was Giordano Bruno. In his Concerning Shadows of Ideas, he set out 150 images, linked to various astrological symbols, planets, houses, signs and decans. He possibly derived them from earlier sources. Accompanying the images are instructions how to use them in the art of memory. Bruno's art of memory is far more than a system of mnemonics. They are designed to effect changes in both the magician and the world around him. Henry Cornelius Agrippa also offers images of a similar nature in his three books of occult philosophy.

By Bruno's time, there had been a reaction against the new learning. Bruno was burned as a heretic in 1600, a century after Ficino had died a natural death, loaded with ecclesiastical honours.

Daimonic magic was based on the principle of inducing an influx of spiritus mundi (spirit of the world) which mediates between the highest and its body (the material sphere) and is diffused throughout the whole universe. It is through spiritus mundi that the daimonic or magical influence comes down to humans, who absorb it in their inner spirit. As it is written in Rabbi Abraham Dior's Thirty-Two Paths of Wisdom, a Renaissance qabalistic document: "The Tenth Path (the physical sphere) causes a copious influx from the Prince of the First Sphere (the Highest)."

To attract the spiritus or daimon of a planet or decan, a magician should set aside a special sanctuary or temple for the purpose and decorate it with pictures, statues, plants, scents, colours and so on associated with a particular daimonic influence. Magic consists of guiding the spiritus to flow into the material realm.

An important technique of daimonic magic is the manufacture of talismans. A talisman is an artificially manufactured container for the daimonic forces. Made of material appropriate to the daimonic force sought, it should be the right shape and inscribed with diagrams, sigils and words of the daimon. Each step of the process must be done when the daimonic influence or cosmic energy, to use a more modern term, is most powerful. Various sytems were used to determine such times. Astrology, and for those who did not have the wit nor enthusiasm to learn astrology, books of planetary hours, or, in our day, modern computer-driven astrological programmes which can determine precisely when the particular daimonic influences are most powerful and also when they are propitious and easy to handle.

A talisman can also be any material object into which spiritus or the daimon of a cosmic power has become infused and which stores it, even if it has not been subjected to special magical procedures. There have been preserved many lists of things which, by natural correspondence, attract the spiritus of the each of the planets and other cosmic powers.


                   The Three Levels of Daimonic Magic                                                                                                

There are three levels of daimonic magic, each progressively more powerful than the previous level.                                                                          

(1) At the first level of daimonic magic, the magician physically builds an actual place, a temple or sanctuary in which are placed physical objects and talismans to draw down sought-after daimonic influences.

(2) The techniques of the second level of daimonic magic are more powerful. They consist of chanting hymns or appropriate invocations to tap into the daimonic powers, perhaps also using music corresponding to the daimonic powers sought. The magical poems called the Hymns of Orpheus or the hymns attributed Homer revering Demeter are very effective at this level. The Mithras Liturgy is another source of powerful daimonic chants. Many books of mythology contain ancient invocations to various gods and goddesses. Most magicians will use levels 1 and 2 simultaneously.

(3) In the third level of the daimonic techniques, the magician constructs the cosmic temple or sanctuary (On other planes) and carries out the appropriate rites mentally.

The Treasure House of Images

Such a temple of the imagination is usually called the theatre of the world in published works on the art of memory Examples of such inner, imagined cosmic temples are the qabalistic Tree of Life, the chart of an astrological horoscope or the stage of a theatre. The modern magical term is the treasure house of images, which also refers to the sphere of Yesodh in the Tree of Life.

Mental images of the daimones are visualised and placed within the temple of the imagination in their appropriate places and thus is built the treasure house of images. It is in this inner sanctuary that advanced magicians mentally recite the chants and words of power to draw into themselves the powers of the daimones. As it is written: 'Gevurim gevurim; Sh'thiqim 'other Gevurim," which means, I believe, 'The strong are strong, the silent are stronger." The word sh'thiqim is a pun, for it also meant a guerilla in the Jewish wars against the Romans.

The techniques of the third level of daimonic magic are the mostpowerful. They have been taught for more than 2000 years in the system known as the art of memory, but in a concealed manner. The art of memory taught its students to put images in places in order to remember lengthy lists or speeches, etc. It was these poorly concealed magical implications to be found in the writings of Giordano Bruno on the ars memoria that, inter alia, led eventually to his execution.


The Images of the Daimones

Nowadays, the best known of the Renaissance sets of images used in the places of the inner temple are the Tarocchi, also known as the Tarot. However, there are other, more ancient sets of images of the daimones or gods of the cosmos. From the most ancient times, certain images of the cosmic gods or daimones had been built up by magicians. These were known and described by magical writers down through the ages, such as the Arab author of the Picatrix, Cornelius Agrippa, Peter of Abano and Athanasius Kircher. While all the lists are generally similar, there are differences from one list to another. The longest and most comprehensive lists are to be found in the magical writings of Giordano Bruno, but none of these have ever been published in English before now. Bruno includes four sets of images in Umbris Idearum, totalling 150, all of which are included in Parts Three to Five of this set of papers.

Even though many of the individual images seem bizarre to modern minds, they repay meditation and careful visualisation. You can either visualise them while preparing rituals or spells using the magical energies of any particular mansion; or you can use them in your attentive meditation sessions. The images can be drawn and displayed in your sanctuary or temple; you can place them on talismans; or you can visualise them, while doing third level daimonic work, as part of the process of invoking a particular cosmic energy.

                                         Further reading on Renaissance magic:

Much of the material in this paper has been derived from:

D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Daimonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella, U. Notre Dame Press, 1975. It gives a good analysis of Renaissance high magic.

Other books worth reading in this area are:

D. P. Walker, The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian Platonism from the 15th to the 18th Century, Duckworth, 1972.

Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, Penguin Books, 1967.

Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods, The Mythological Tradition and its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art, Bollingen Series XXXVII, Princeton U., 1972.

Henry Cornelius Agrippa, The Three Books of Occult Philosophy, 1531, translated by James Freake; edited and annotated by Donald Tyson, Llewellyn, 1993.

© 1991 Society of Guardians.