Sigils and servitors
Bombast and Flitterflop investigate
The third in an occasional series of topical investigations with a humorous twist
For the benefit of new readers we should add that despite, or perhaps because of their rather silly names, Bombast and Flitterflop are real individuals, well-known to the authors of this website, whose names we have changed to protect their identities. In their third investigation they discuss the modern fascination with 'sigils' and 'servitors' which many of those interested in the occult wrongly imagine constitutes the true Arcanum of Magic. As we shall learn from our two brave sleuths, nothing could be further from the truth...
You can find a full list of Bombast and Flitterflop's previous occasional articles on our Homepage while the complete series of the twelve Astral Conversations they recorded for us is reviewed and described in the sidebar. These unique articles remain perennial favourites with new and old readers alike as you can see from the enthusiastic comments we've received over the years.
FLITTERFLOP: "I was browsing an occult forum the other day and stumbled on a thread in which someone was asking why their sigils and servitors didn't seem to be working."
BOMBAST: "And what priceless advice was this bemused magus given?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Reject the thoughts that say they're not working."
BOMBAST: "I couldn't have put it better myself. Well, actually I could. People make fools of themselves about everything some of the time, and some things all of the time, but only an online armchair magician can make a complete fool of themselves about everything all of the time."
FLITTERFLOP: "Very droll. Unfortunately, humour is lost on the members of that forum. They seem to think that making sigils and servitors is something any chaos magician can do to get whatever they want without having to do anything resembling real work."
BOMBAST: "Well, they would, wouldn't they? Chaos magic has been described as the marriage of occultism and postmodern psychological scepticism. The numpties who practise it believe there are no absolute truths and seriously think that if you believe in something strongly enough it will magically come to pass."
FLITTERFLOP: "I'd describe chaos magic as the marriage of stupidity and cupidity."
BOMBAST (visibly impressed): "You should trademark that. I never knew you had such wit and wisdom in you."
FLITTERFLOP: "The list of things you don't know would fill a large book."
BOMBAST (grinning): "Touché! This is even more true of chaos magicians."
FLITTERFLOP: "How do you mean?"
BOMBAST: "The kind of person who hopes to get rich quick, get laid, revenge themselves on their ex, get a job or their five minutes of fame with chaos magic invariably lacks the will-power, concentration and self-discipline to achieve anything in life. If they possessed any of these qualities they wouldn't need to use 'sigils' and 'servitors' to get what they want, would they?"
FLITTERFLOP: "You mean they see magic as an easy 'fix' for life's problems?"
BOMBAST: "Precisely. I blame Harry Potter."
FLITTERFLOP: "I happen to like Harry Potter!"
BOMBAST: "So do I, but there's no getting away from the fact that J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, especially the movies based on them, have influenced two generations of Muggles*—sorry, gullible simpletons—to think that flicking and swishing a bit of wood about while bellowing pseudo-Latin words is all it takes to perform wonders that make feeding the five thousand a cheap party trick."
FLITTERFLOP: "But neither Harry nor his friends ever used sigils or servitors."
BOMBAST: "That's not entirely true. The sign of the Deathly Hallows could be seen as a sigil and a patronus as a kind of servitor. But that's beside the point."
FLITTERFLOP: "Which is?"
BOMBAST: "The delusion that magic is something anyone can take up to get what they want without any effort. The armchair magician you encountered on social media is a classic example of the poltroons who swallow this poppycock. Mind you, Harry Potter isn't entirely to blame for the explosion of interest in the occult among troubled teens and gullible grownups. Sabrina the Teenage Witch arguably influenced even more dimwits to dabble with divination and scribble sigils. Before that we were treated to the magical exploits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and moronic movies like The Craft, all of which — pun intended — added fuel to the witch's cauldron of so-called 'dark magic' thrill-seekers have been supping on ever since."
FLITTERFLOP: "Don't you find that unhealthy and depressing?"
BOMBAST: "What? Teenage thrill-seeking or dark magic?"
BOMBAST: "Not really, no. Kids have always sought thrills. I did when I was young, and we know you did from the revelations of your past misdemeanours that emerged during our astral conversations, such as your faith in Breatharian——"
FLITTERFLOP (interrupting): "—Could we not mention my past——"
BOMBAST: "—Stupidity and cupidity you mean?"
FLITTERFLOP (blushing furiously): "Oh very clever. Using my own words against me. I prefer to think of them as brief—very brief and uncharacteristic—lapses of commonsense."
BOMBAST: "Maybe your disappointed chaos magician will also come to his senses."
FLITTERFLOP: "Do you really think so?"
BOMBAST: "Why not? Most people—kids especially—grow out of thrill-seeking as they mature and take on adult responsibilities. You won't find many married men or women with kids holding down responsible, demanding jobs dabbling with 'dark magic', scribbling sigils or employing servitors. Even those adults who do continue with these and similar pursuits rarely if ever obtain any genuine occult phenomena."
FLITTERFLOP: "Where does the fascination with sigils and servitors come from?"
BOMBAST: "Chaos magic."
FLITTERFLOP: "And where did that come from and why?"
BOMBAST: "Chaos magic is the bastard offspring of the unholy marriage of real occultism with pop culture, drug-fuelled psychedelia and half-baked sorcery. Sigils and servitors themselves have been around since at least the Middle Ages in one form or another. But the way they're understood and used today—or rather misused and misunderstood—is a product of chaos magic. Chaos magic is of very recent origin, dating back no more than 50 years to the 1970's. Originally, sigils were signs representing the names of the various spirits listed in medieval grimoires which gave the magician complete control over them."
FLITTERFLOP: "And did they?"
BOMBAST: "Well — let me put it this way. If I drew a couple of squiggly lines and named them 'Flitterflop' would it summon you into my presence from wherever you happened to be to perform whatever menial service I desired, such as making me a cuppa?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Probably not. But summoning spirits is a bit different to creating a sigil to get off with a hot barista."
BOMBAST: "I'm amazed you know any hot barristers. Is some disgruntled Squib* suing you again for libel?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Not 'barrister'—BARISTA—you know, someone who makes and serves coffee."
BOMBAST: "Clearly I need to drink less tea. But you're right, sigils are mostly used for sex, money, getting a better job or any job. Repelling so-called 'curses' and getting even with people who've crossed you in some way are popular reasons too. Speaking of cuppas...put the kettle on and fill up the teapot there's a good chap."
FLITTERFLOP (Grudgingly complying): "Why do I always have to make the tea?"
BOMBAST: "Is that a rhetorical question?"
BOMBAST: "In that case the answer should be obvious."
FLITTERFLOP: "Well it isn't."
BOMBAST: "Cast your mind back to our astral conversation about divination. Weren't you the one badgering me about ways of foreseeing the future? Didn't we conclude that the sooner you start reading tea-leaves the sooner you'll get rich by telling fortunes?"
FLITTERFLOP: "But tea-leaves don't really work—do they? That's just as silly as using sigils, surely?"
BOMBAST: "Good question. Tea-leaves may work if the querent is able to focus their mind sufficiently well to allow them to see beyond the veil. Similarly, if the will and imagination of the person making the sigil is strong enough it might work. Mostly it doesn't, or not in any quantifiable way."
FLITTERFLOP: "That's the conclusion I've come to. Most books and blogs tell you sigils make you feel empowered, help you become more aware of the interconnected nature of reality, become more decisive and intentional, motivated and creative and develop the confidence that most situations can change for the better if you will them to."
BOMBAST: "That sounds exactly like the wishy-washy woo-woo you used to spout during our early astral conversations."
FLITTERFLOP (grimacing): "It does, doesn't it? Among the excuses I've heard for sigils not delivering the goods is that they don't always work as expected."
BOMBAST: "I should say not! A well-known 'magician' who is the author of several best-selling books on chaos magic—or 'magick' as these types insist on spelling the word—cast a sigil to attract a very pretty girl he fancied."
FLITTERFLOP: "I'm guessing his sigil backfired in some unexpected way?"
BOMBAST: "Not at all. It backfired in a completely expected way."
FLITTERFLOP (laughing): "How?"
BOMBAST: "The girl moved to a city on the other side of the world and he never heard from her or saw her ever again."
FLITTERFLOP: "That successful, huh?"
BOMBAST: "It gets better. According to the best authorities in sigil magic the main reason they don't always work is that success depends on completely forgetting the intention you cast them for."
FLITTERFLOP: "You've lost me."
BOMBAST: "The kettle's boiling, do make the tea."
BOMBAST: "According to the best chaos magicians you should forget all about your intention as soon as you've drawn your sigil and you shouldn't cast them for things you can't get out of your mind."
FLITTERFLOP: "Isn't that a contradiction in terms? I mean if I have the hots for a gorgeous girl or I'm desperate to land a top job I'm hardly likely to forget about either for more than five seconds, am I?"
BOMBAST: "Not unless you've learned—or been taught—to completely control your thinking. Most of these numpties are barely able to string two consecutive thoughts together for more than a minute."
FLITTERFLOP (stirring the tea): "If they could they wouldn't need to resort to sigils to get what I wanted, would they?"
BOMBAST: "You've hit the nail on the head and exposed the elephant in the room who's swallowed the fly in the ointment."
FLITTERFLOP (grimacing): "That's a truly awful mixed metaphor."
BOMBAST: "But an apt one."
FLITTERFLOP: "Don't these magicians see the glaring contradiction?"
BOMBAST: "Nope. If they did it would pull the rug out from under their entire belief system which would collapse like the rotten house of tarot cards it is."
FLITTERFLOP: "Metaphorically speaking?"
BOMBAST (grinning): "Naturally. But there is a way around this tricky contradiction."
FLITTERFLOP (pouring out the tea and adding milk and sugar): "There is? What's that then?"
BOMBAST (drinking gratefully): "One cunning chaos magician suggests you should be rendered unconscious long enough to give the sigil time to work."
FLITTERFLOP: "Brilliant! Has anyone tried this?"
BOMBAST: "Not that I know of. Though some have tried getting blind drunk for a week or smoking themselves senseless with weed."
FLITTERFLOP: "Did it work?"
BOMBAST: "No. Though some of them completely forget the reason they'd drawn the sigil in the first place."
FLITTERFLOP: "Could we call that a partial success?"
BOMBAST: "Not really, no.
FLITTERFLOP: "Why not?"
BOMBAST: "It's obvious, isn't it?"
FLITTERFLOP (spooning extra sugar into his tea): "Is it? Not to me."
BOMBAST: "Well, think about it. If some complete stranger appeared on your doorstep offering you a top job in some mega corporation what would you do?"
FLITTERFLOP: "Tell them I was terribly busy helping a government minister wrongfully accused of corruption and bribery shift ten million dollars from his Nigerian bank account into my own account in return for my modest commission of ten percent."
FLITTERFLOP: "So, let's sum up. Sigils only work if you possess superhuman will-power and the ability to completely control your thinking all of the time. If you had these abilities you wouldn't need to use sigils to get what you want. So sigils are pretty much a waste of time and effort."
BOMBAST: "Unless you're flogging books about how to make and use them."
FLITTERFLOP: "In which case, they may be a nice little earner for you as well as impressing the impressionable with your magical CV."
FLITTERFLOP: "So what's a servitor according to those who use them and how does it differ from a sigil?"
BOMBAST: "The main difference is that a servitor is a magical entity you invent to perform some task or service whereas a sigil is just a sign or image you believe possesses some magical power."
FLITTERFLOP: "They sound much the same to me."
BOMBAST: "Essentially they are. I guess you could call a sigil an objective servitor and a servitor a subjective sigil. But those who believe in this mumbo-jumbo talk about 'deliberately budding off portions of your psyche and identifying them by means of a name, trait or symbol,' after which 'they can come to work with you at conscious level.' "
FLITTERFLOP: "That sounds a bit like a patronus to me."
BOMBAST: "I knew we'd come back to Harry Potter sooner or later."
FLITTERFLOP: "So a servitor is just a figment of an armchair magician's imagination? It's not real in any objective sense?!"
BOMBAST: "It could be. It depends on the willpower and imagination of the creator of the servitor. Leaving aside the risible explanations given by chaos magicians, a fully-realized servitor is what genuine occultists have long known and described as artificial elementals. But the average, inept dabbler is about as likely to create an elemental as you are to 'transfigure' that teapot into a tortoise."
FLITTERFLOP: "I'm beginning to agree with you that Harry Potter has a lot to answer for. Not to mention Hermione Granger who was better at transfiguration than he was and much cleverer. So servitors, like sigils, may work given sufficient strength of will and a powerful imagination?"
BOMBAST: "Undoubtedly. But like any other magical act the number of people who can accomplish this are very few indeed. On the other hand, there are grave dangers associated with the attempt to create servitors."
FLITTERFLOP: "How do you mean?"
BOMBAST: "Even the chaos magician I mentioned earlier admits that servitors can be created unconsciously. He is right. Thoughts are things. This is the ABC of occult science. All of us create thought-forms all the time. Most are short-lived and fade away without affecting us or those around us to any appreciable extent. But obsessive mental states and heightened emotionalism, especially when combined with the use of mind-altering drugs, can create thought-forms that are more or less permanent—true elementals. There is no question that these can do great harm. Unsurprisingly, the best advice our glib chaos magician can give is that such mental monsters 'should be handled with caution.' I would say they shouldn't be 'handled' at all, much less created in the first place!"
FLITTERFLOP: "Isn't there a description of such dangerous elementals in The Golden Star by J Michaud?"
BOMBAST: "There is. As no chaos magician is ever likely to read that luminous book but may stumble on this investigation, one passage from Vision four is worth quoting. The author writes: 'These elementals act either on their own behalf, or at the behest of sorcerers or witches who know how to control them; but all are bad and dangerous to the uninitiated...an elemental existing without can attack a person and utterly scatter and destroy him and break him down, as a forest is stricken by a hurricane. Such an elemental can strike in a thousand places at once, without being visible; or it can select one man or woman at the command of the sorcerer's traced signs, or his voice.' Here we have a reference to sigils too which, as I suggested earlier, can work and may also do great harm, though they are far more likely to backfire on the person who drew them."
FLITTERFLOP: "If they work at all."
BOMBAST: "Quite. We must be grateful that ninety-nine times out of a hundred they don't work and the same goes for servitors."
FLITTERFLOP: "Is Aleister Crowley to blame for the popularity of sigils and servitors among those fascinated by the occult?"
BOMBAST: "Partially. It was one of his acolytes and admirers, a mediocre, sex-obsessed artist and would-be 'magus', Austin Osman Spare, who developed the concept of sigils during the Second World War to 'unlock the buried abilities of the unconscious mind' as he put it. Spare spent most of the post-war years in abject poverty, drawing portraits of Londoners in pubs to make ends meet."
FLITTERFLOP: "So the fact that sigils brought him such amazing wealth and success is the reason they're so popular now?"
BOMBAST (chuckling): "Not exactly, no. Spare would probably have remained a complete nonentity were it not for the efforts of another of Crowley's acolytes—Kenneth Grant. It was Grant who, having befriended the aged Spare, and convinced he had met the true guru of his dreams he had never found in Crowley, fervidly embraced Spare's mad theories of sigil magic, and went on to lay the foundation of chaos magic in the 1970's. All of which explains why this lunatic branch of pseudo-magic is the rancid 'pick and mix' brew it has since become."
"FLITTERFLOP: "They don't know what they're messing with, do they?"
BOMBAST: "No. The tyros who dabble with sigils and servitors generally have little or no genuine occult knowledge because it's simply not available to them in the ways it was 100 or even 50 years ago. There are no articles, no books written by occultists of the calibre of Dr Michaud, Franz Hartmann, Michael Juste, Dion Fortune, Ernest Hopkins and others. No one today is qualified to give the beginner a thorough grounding in the ABC of the occult sciences. Only the blind leading the blind. Not that the situation was much better 100 years ago."
FLITTERFLOP: "How do you mean?"
BOMBAST: "In an article published in 1887 in her magazine Lucifer, H. P. Blavatsky wrote: 'There are not in the West half a dozen among the fervent hundreds who call themselves occultists, who have even an approximately correct idea of the nature of the science they seek to master. With a few exceptions, they are all on the highway to sorcery. It is comparatively easy to learn the trick of spells and the methods of using the subtler, but still material, forces of physical nature; the powers of the animal soul in man are soon awakened; the forces which his love, his hate, his passion, can call into operation, are readily developed. But this is black magic — sorcery. For it is the motive, and the motive alone, which makes any exercise of power become black, malignant, or white, beneficent magic. It is impossible to employ spiritual forces if there is the slightest tinge of selfishness remaining in the operator. For, unless the intention is entirely unalloyed, the spiritual will transform itself into the psychic, act on the astral plane, and dire results may be produced by it. The powers and forces of animal nature can equally be used by the selfish and revengeful, as by the unselfish and the all-forgiving; the powers and forces of spirit lend themselves only to the perfectly pure in heart — and this is DIVINE MAGIC.' "
FLITTERFLOP: "That's amazing. Especially how Blavatsky distinguishes between the psychic and the spiritual, a distinction completely lost on these chaos magicians. Her warning might have been written today."
BOMBAST: "If it was you can be sure it would be derided and dismissed just as it was 135 years ago."
FLITTERFLOP: "By 'animal soul' Blavatsky meant the lower mind, didn't she?"
BOMBAST: "Yes. And I have yet to encounter any 'chaos magician' who is remotely interested in creating sigils or servitors for the benefit of others and not themselves."
FLITTERFLOP: "Perhaps that's just as well. Think of the harm they might do if they had any real magical abilities!"
*EDITORS' NOTE: For those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, a 'Muggle' is a person who lacks any sort of magical ability whilst a 'Squib' is a person who, though born of magical parents, has not inherited their supernormal abilities.
If Bombast and Flitterflop have encouraged you to think carefully about the conclusions they reached in this investigation their labours will not have been in vain. Until we hear from them again, we wish you well.
You can find their previous investigations on our Homepage and a complete list of their twelve Astral Conversations, together with some of the comments we have received from readers about these unique articles, in the sidebar.
© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article published 9 January 2022.