Sigils: History, Creation, and Uses
By Gweneth O'Brien
You might have heard about sigils on the hit tv show Supernatural, or maybe somewhere on the internet. You may have seen a multitude of ways to create a sigil, using a fancy wheel of letters, or taking a phrase and eliminating all the vowels and making those letters into a shape. But, you might still be lost on what exactly a sigil is, where they came from, and how to use it. Fret not, because today, I'll be answering some of those questions.
So first off, what exactly is a sigil? Fundamentally, a sigil is a condensed symbol that represents or withholds a specific intention or purpose. These sigils can be personalized and made on your own, or you can use ones you find in books, online, etc. Now, as always, let's get into some history. The word sigil comes from the Latin word sigillum, meaning seal. Unfortunately we don't know exactly when sigils were first used, however, like most things, I personally theorize that they've been around for much longer than we know of. One of the first and most prominent uses of sigils is found in the Lesser Key of Solomon, (published in 1641) or the Goetia. Essentially, the Goetia is a list of 72 spirits and daemons (technically pagan gods reclaimed by Christianity), which can be conjured through ritual, and commanded to teach or aid the practitioner in whatever way they specialize in. Each of these daemons have a corresponding sigil or seal, which can be used when conjuring them. On the other hand, sigils have also been present in Enochian, or Angelic magic. Of course, these aren't necessarily the angels we might see on a Christmas card (they typically have more eyes and wings, and may be a little more intimidating). But, like the Goetia, various seals and sigils were used when working with Enochian. If all of that seems a little intimidating, I don't blame you. Luckily, sigils have evolved from spirit-summoning symbols (say that 6 times fast), and for that, we can thank Austin Osman Spare. Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) was a highly influential occultist and artist in the 19th-20th centuries. While he was quite the renaissance man, being a skilled artist and author, he is often associated with his influence on magic and sigils specifically. His work surrounding sigils also heavily shaped the practice of Chaos Magic, which is a results-based magical system. Spare practically threw the traditional use of sigils for invoking out the window, and instead used them to direct an energy or intention. Here is a lengthy yet crucial quote from Spare himself that can help one understand his philosophy behind sigils:
“Sigils are the means of guiding and uniting the partially free belief with an organic desire, its carriage and retention till its purpose served in the sub-conscious self, and its means of reincarnation in the Ego. All thought can be expressed by form in true relation. Sigils are monograms of thought, for the government of energy (all heraldry, crests, monograms, are Sigils and the Karmas they govern), relating to Karma; a mathematical means of symbolizing desire and giving it form that has the virtue of preventing any thought and association on that particular desire (at the magical time), escaping the detection of the Ego, so that it does not restrain or attach such desire to its own transitory images, memories and worries, but allows it free passage to the sub-consciousness.” What Spare inherently means is that our thoughts hold immense power, and by thinking of a desire, we have the ability to manifest it. A sigil is simply a conduit for said energy or desire, and its power lies in the subconscious. Actively worrying about the sigil or the outcome will negatively impact the results of the sigil. Now that we have established a basic history of this vast incarnation of magic, we can begin learning how to create and use them. I'll be discussing 4 methods, however these are by no means the only ways to create sigil- they are unique works of art, so I encourage you to be creative. Remember, they don't have to be elaborate or fancy whatsoever!
1: Using the Alphabet. Think of an affirmation, intention, or something you would like to manifest, for example ‘I am anxiety free’ or something that resonates with your soul. You may need to think or meditate on this for a moment. Keep in mind that this intention can be used for long or short-term purposes. Additionally, try not to use 'I want', because that acknowledges the possibility that you might not succeed, or that you don't already have that which you are trying to attract. Using 'I am' or present-tense wording constitutes much more powerful manifestation. Think back to Spare's philosophy- worry has just as much power as desire, so it can influence your magic just the same.
Next, Take that affirmation, eliminate all vowels and repeating letters. 'I am anxiety free' would become MNXTFR. Take the letters, and use the shapes of these letters to combine them into a symbol that you like. You can keep the letters whole or break them apart into lines and curves. 2: Meditation. When meditating, you can set the intention to develop a sigil. This method may take practice, and the symbol may come to you instantly, in pieces, or not at all.
3: The circle method. This is a very common way to create sigils, and you may see several variations, such as the Witches' Wheel, or different magical squares. Personally, I find that this method is the easiest when first starting out. First, create an affirmation and eliminate vowels/repeating letters like method 1. Then, assign the letters of the alphabet a number. 1: A, J, S 2: B, K, T 3: C, L, U 4: D, M, V, 5: E, N, W 6: F, O, X 7: G, P, Y 8: H, Q, Z 9: I, R Draw this circle (or any variation you find) with numbers inside like the one pictured.
Now, use the numbers corresponding with the letters of your affirmation, and draw from number to number inside the circle. For example, Good Sleep, would become GDSLP and would be drawn by drawing from 7 to 4 to 1 to 3 to 7. You can draw it however you would like, with straight lines, swirls, zigzags, etc. It may take a few tries to get a pattern you like. Once you have it, you can embellish or adjust it with circles, dots, hearts, however you would like. Finally, copy it into a journal, and label it for future reference. 4. Freestyle. Sigils are a highly intuitive practice, so use your intuition when you create yours! Allow yourself to draw whatever comes to mind, whatever you associate with your intention. It may seem daunting at first, but drawing whatever you're guided to draw is an immensely powerful way to make a sigil! And finally, how do you really use a sigil? The most important step in sigil work is the activation. Once you have your sigil ready, you need to energetically ignite it, sending that signal into the universe. You can do this by actually igniting it, or burning it on a piece of paper, anointing it with oil or spit, crumpling it up, hitting it, meditating with it, or visualizing your energy being sent to it and activating it. If you are a Reiki Practitioner, you can also use that energy for activation. After it's activated you can use the sigil in so many ways! You can burn it like mentioned before, carve it on a candle, carry it with you, wear it as pendant/amulet/talisman, use it in a charm bag, put it under your pillow, and if you're hardcore, you can even get it tattooed! All in all, sigils are a potent form of magic and intention setting that dates back centuries. They have multiple different uses, and are such a fun way to use intuition, art, manifestation, and magic all at once. Hopefully some of your burning questions about sigils were answered, and with your foundation already set, I encourage you to go and make a sigil of your own. Who knows, you might be surprised by the results!
As always, be safe, and blessed be.
The Lesser Key of Solomon (Grimoire). https://www.grimoire.org/grimoire/lesser-key/
Austin Osman Spare. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Osman_Spare
Webster, et al. (2019) Llewellyn's Complete Book of Ceremonial Magick. Edited by Duquette, L. M. & Shoemaker. D. Llewellyn.
Spare, A.O. (1913) The Book of Pleasure (Self Love): The Psychology of Ecstasy.