In a previous post dedicated to asking "What is magic(k)?" I had offered some very brief considerations of the manner in which successful magical actions always change the self:
"my every action is necessitated by some previous set of concerns, needs and motivations. These define me, for the moment, and so my action is only free in certain limited senses. But the truly magical action, in expanding the boundary of the world and my sense of self, frees me as well from the structures which previously defined me.
4. Every achievement of will is the discovery that my will was other than I thought."
4. Every achievement of will is the discovery that my will was other than I thought."
Here I would like to consider, or rather expand, those considerations through a discussion of the occult practice, particularly popular within various forms of Chaos Magic, of the Sigilization of Desire.
How are we to conceptualize the sigilization process? There are several ways in which to organize and direct our understanding of the process. Perhaps I can offer here another or, at the very least, an extension of pre-existing discourses on the subject.
What do we do when we sigilize? Seemingly we take a desire, translate the desire into a symbolic representation, and then “charge” this representation. We deal, then, with three basic processes. Desiring. Symbolizing. Charging. I will take this preliminary assertion as my guide and, in discussing each of these elements, attempt to show that the process is both more involved and potentially of a different nature than we at first assume.
What is desire and where does it come from? It seems that sigilization takes desire as given, as the prime matter of the great work of fulfillment. Such, of course, can’t possibly be the case. Desire comes to us heavily constructed. We desire as we have seen others desiring. Our eye roams towards that which we have witnessed others coveting or away from that norm towards the object which most represents rebellion. We swim with, against, or perpendicular to the stream but always the social-stream is first and determinative. Desire, then, comes to us as a social entity, no different (and indeed intimately identified with) the social being that is our identity. “I” and “want” alike are inheritances more than inherent.
But we have over-leapt our topic. Surely first we must ask what it is to desire. My object may be a messy business but surely the structure of desire is basic. Perhaps desire, as I have already implied, is to want. Indeed it is hard to hear these words without hearing the implied “lack”. We want what we do not have, we want what we lack or what eludes us. Wanting is reaching for what is lost. But desire has an older and more interesting heritage. The original sense of desire derives from the Latin de-sidere. “De”, to turn away, and “sidus” a star or constellation. To de-sidere is to “turn away from the stars”. To look from the heavens towards the earth. To desist from stargazing and embrace the world. The ancient view, of course, locates this turn away from the heavens with a loss, the fall and primal tearing of the self. We turn to the earth to find what we have lost.
But what if this primal loss is, in fact, the original illusion? What if the myth of unity and wholeness is the oldest myth of all and, in fact, the first lie? Before there was the myth of god there was the search for the self. To desire is to reach, surely, but who so blasphemed human striving as to tie it inextricably to human inadequacy? What if striving is our nature, and reaching our glory? Desire: to turn away from escape and seek instead existence, to turn away from dreams and reach out into the world, to turn away from self and seek self-overcoming. At the very least we can surely assert that to desire is to attempt to go beyond myself.
But, of course, how prosaic I find my desires to be and how tied to the very social constraints which finely craft this precise “self”. Desire must be trained not to over-reach its bounds, it must from the very moment of birth be kept from breaking the limits that are name, rank and social security number.
But what if the reaching is more primordial than the reached-for or reacher? What if my turning away and striving pre-date my self? Well then, of course, my desire is something below or beyond my self. Indeed, to state what I desire, to even know what I desire, I will have to bring desire from its own primordial realm into the realm of persons and purposes and norms. I will have to bring my desire into language and image.
Sigilization, then, does not go from desire to symbolization. It goes from primordial desire, to translation and interpretation into language, and then into symbolization. In other words, desire is
What is it to bring something to words? What do I do when I give linguistic expression to something not itself discovered in language, if indeed this ever occurs? We might think, for example, of the nature of names or letters. What of the word “god” is divine? What of the letter “L” looks like the letter “L” sounds or feels? In letters, as in names, we have signs, signifiers. The essential nature of a signifier, I now suspect, is its arbitrary nature. A sign is assigned a meaning, and the sign “god” picks out that thing god, only through the complex system of other signifiers that can make meaningful the practice of signifying-pointing. Signifiers, then, are contingent and arbitrary in relation to their signified and, further, dependent upon the entire vast system of signification for their achievement. In this sense, then, meaning is metaphor made possible through practice and not cognition.
To “bring a desire to words” then is to cloth it in randomly discovered masquerade clothing. It is not to reveal as much as to obscure. But, of course, there is nothing this desire was “for me” without these words because “I”, too, am a moment marked by the play of social signifiers.
What is the process of sigilization, then, in relation to the signification of desire I find in my thoughts and statements? What do I do in the process? I take the significations and reveal their arbitrary nature, for in what is this nature most captured if not their shape? I translate the “meaning” of words into the mere look of letters deprived, even, of their letter-ness. They become design by being de-signed.
The process of sigilization is generally conceived to culminate in a “charging”. This charging is often interpreted in the light of the history of psychoanalytic thought such that the obscuring of the representation of the desire, i.e. the translation of the desire into a sentence and that sentence into mere letters and those letters into a design, is the method which allows the desire to be passed through our conscious mind into the unconscious at a moment of excitation or concentration. The necessity of this method derives from the existence of the “censor” which, as in Freud, is understood to be the cognitive apparatus of repression whereby shameful desires are constrained and translated into alternative sublimated acceptable desires. Of course the innovation of the sigilization process derives from its renovation of the psychoanalytic attempt to speak with the unconscious. Rather than trying to get the unconscious to reveal its secrets, we inform and instruct the unconscious by implanting desires and demands.
The strange structure of this process should be clear, for surely the unconscious is the original realm of primal desire. Thus, the process of sigilization is that of returning a signified desire to the realm of the unsignified. But, if this is the case, then the sigilization process takes on a new light. When we turn words into a sigil we deconstruct the illusion of signification. The basic myth of language is that the word actually stands for the thing, the realization of the nature of signification reveals that the word is arbitrary and that only human action and practice forge any connection between word and thing. Sigilization is to practice against this practice.
The process of “charging” has always seemed a bit mysterious in relation to the sigilization process, whether it is conceived as signification, symbolization or de-signification. What role does the excitation of concentration play? One finds oneself speaking in terms of “energy” and the transfer of “force”. Alternatively one finds oneself speaking of placing the mind in a completely open and receptive state for the receiving of the sigilized message. But why should this be necessary? On the one hand, if the force that will accomplish the desire is found in the unconscious, which indeed is what justifies the role of the unconscious in the entire process, then charging does not occur until the sigil has entered the unconscious and not as the means by which, or the moment at which, it does so. On the other hand, if the formation of the sigil is meant to obscure and preserve the meaning of the stated desire such that it is readily accessible to the unconscious but not accessible to the censor then it will be just as useful to hang the sigil on the refrigerator and forget about it. In this way we will accidentally happen to see it from time to time, and that will communicate with the unconscious much better than setting up some special moment of excitation. Indeed, on the psychoanalytic reading of the sigilization process ceremony and excitation are meant to play the role of distraction and little else. Keep the conscious mind busy with candles or sexual exertion and it won't censor the real point, the silly meaningless squiggles whispering to the unconscious. But ritual and excitation work against themselves here. Far better to tape the sigil on the inside of a cabinet such that we forget about it until suddenly it appears, as it were, from nowhere a few days later when we go looking for our oatmeal.
But we have suggested that in the process of sigilization the “meaning” of the statement sigilized is not preserved. If meaning is metaphor, in sigilization understood as de-signification, the metaphor is broken and so too is the meaning. The sigil itself is just squiggles, de-sign, and as such is meaningless. What matters, then, in sigilization is the process of sigilization itself understood as the process of de-signification.
As we have already mentioned the process of signification whereby desire appears in language is not a non-destructive transition. Desire is structured by the language into which it is born and the social practices into which it is translated. Signification as masking is, just as much, a chaining. Desire, as we have mentioned, is from our very birth structured, limited and guided. It is distorted and tamed. Insofar as this is the case, the process of de-signification is a process of liberation. We unmask and free primal desire, or at least attempt to, in the course of de-signifying previously structured desire.
These considerations give to the ritual of charging a new importance. What we have called charging is, rather, the moment when primal desire is potentially released either as impetus or achievement. It is at that moment following the process of de-signification that linguistic and social restraint is broken and the very loss of “self” becomes possible. It is at this moment that spontaneous primal desire can be freed of its restraint and creative self-overcoming can occur. At that point one turns away from the social constellation and looks to a world free of masking-signs. In other words, the ritual of charging does not serve the purpose of achieving some sigilized aim, it is the moment of the achievement of the true desire or the beginning of the impetus towards this fulfillment of the previously unknown desire.
What this discussion of the process of sigilization should suggest, at the very least, is a reconsideration of the role played by formalized and planned ritual in the process. It is, I wish to suggest, before the process of sigilization that ritual and planning are to be stressed. A space can be cleansed and the proper mood set for the process. However, once the actually process of de-signification begins the practicioner should hold her or his self open to every passing breath of whim and inspiration. Ideally the moment following sigilization, the moment of charging, should be entirely unplanned and unstructured. Most ideally it would also be entirely unanticipated. Here, indeed, we find a connection between this process and the goal of Zen. Sigilization is a gateway to perfect spontaneity and the practitioner should be prepared to surrender to this spontaneity that is the liberation of desire.
It may indeed be that the traditional forms of charging which we find within our current practices, for example charging through sexual excitation or pain and consecration with sexual fluids or blood and so on, serve the purpose not of presenting the, or even a, way of charging but rather serve as a further step in the processes of de-signification. The sexual charging of a sigil, for example, can be read as the de-signification of the sexual act, a deconstruction of its social and biological determinations. As such these methods remain doorways and not end points, attempts to form an opening through which spontaneous desire might rise. The real height of the ritual remains, then, unknown and unknowable before time and both revolutionary and revelational.