Learning the Language of Symbols through Modern Witchcraft
I define talisman as any object that has been magically charged with power in order to perform a certain function. It is a magical symbol in physical form that can perhaps be carried or worn in order for its sphere of influence to be readily felt. Talismans have been used from since before the beginnings of recorded history when Paleolithic humans drew and painted images on cave walls and carve figures out of stone to represent the hunt, birth, death, and beyond.
The understanding and use of magical symbols is an art form that is essential to the student of any magical path. The manipulation of symbols constitutes a language that is understood by that part of our soul structure known as the fetch, as is described in the Three Souls model of the Faery tradition of witchcraft. It is this form of pre-verbal direct communication to a deeper layer of our soul(s) that is a critical aspect in learning to wield magical power. When we are able to communicate with our fetch, then we are a step closer to actualizing our potential as complete human beings.
On one level, symbols can be seen as “store-houses” of power. A pentacle or five pointed star, for example, can remind one of the five element model, illustrating how the powers in question are interconnected and flow into each other in a progression. It can also conjure the image of the human body, with arms and legs outstretched, and so can remind us that these powers are within us as well as without. With this in mind, the pentacle then becomes a symbol for these qualities and so when I use it in ritual I can draw these powers from them as needed. The relationship that my psyche has with the symbols designates the power that they may hold.
Symbols are also gateways. We use symbols to transport our consciousness to another place, another time. When meditating on the great sword in the stone, Excalibur, we are whisked away to a land populated by chivalrous knights, ancient magics, and fulfillment of destiny. The image of the sword lodged in the stone might then become a symbol for any of these things or more. Perhaps it can represent the goal that has been just out of reach, the one thing that no one believes that you can do. Or perhaps it can be representative of claiming your power; seeing yourself hold aloft the sword can conjure a sense of completion, of wholeness, of victory.
Symbols that we encounter, like those found in dreams, are very personal indeed. Because symbols communicate through direct interaction with the most primal parts of our psyche, bypassing our conscious filter of rational and linear thought, they rarely translate exactly from person to person. My experience of dreaming of a wolf, for example, would probably be different from that of a stranger or even a close friend. To me the wolf represents the power of the solitary in relation to the community. They are noble creatures, and walkers between the worlds. To someone else they might represent gentleness, viciousness, nurturing, hierarchy, hunger, intelligence, or any number of qualities that wolves have been said to possess since the dawn of recorded history. The important thing to understand is that no one definition can ever hope to encapsulate the totality of the symbolic experience.
When choosing a symbol for a magical working it is important to keep things simple. The more elaborate the symbol(s) the less likely that you will be able to concentrate on it/them with enough focus to direct the power. Additionally there will be a greater chance of success if the method towards manifestation of the desired result is left somewhat open. For example, were I to be performing a money spell I would probably find it more useful to focus on the symbol of a dollar sign ($) than, lets say, an invocation written in any of the widely available magical alphabets much used in the modern Craft (perhaps something written to the effect of “From my job, more money comes.”). In the first example the symbol of the dollar sign is used as a gateway to power: I understand what a dollar sign means and I have a certain relationship to it, as it is a symbol in common use within our culture. By focusing my energy on it as the goal I can fill my thoughts with nothing else, nothing will be left to distract me. With my concentration being focused in this way I am completely immersed in the power of the symbol, allowing it to interact directly with my fetch, thus communicating my desire in such a way that magical action can be taken out. I have also left the means to the goal open; my fetch knows that the money can come from just about anywhere and so the magic, like electricity, will take the path of least resistance.
With the second example I run the risk of overlooking other avenues towards manifestation: being given gifts of money, finding money, or even having it magically appear in my bank account. There are times, however, when you will want to be more specific and so will set more parameters for the working of the spell. Perhaps your goal is specifically to get a raise from your current employer, in which case the second example above would prove to be a nice representation, or even perhaps a combination of the two. This is why it is important to be very clear on what it is that you want beforehand. The first and most important step in any magical working is the definition of magical intent.
The ritual manipulation of the chosen symbol(s) can be a contributing factor in its initial choosing. For example, if in the text of a particular spell a symbol is to be etched on a candle (thus charging it with that particular aspect) then, again using our money spell above, the dollar sign would prove to be a good choice, as it is simple, small, and can be easily drawn. You can see how the 2nd example would prove to be more than problematic. If, however, you wanted to charge a particular object with power, such a jewelry or something that you could later carry with you, then you would want to choose a physical object that speaks to your fetch on some level. In the case of jewelry you might choose something that is made from a material that is in resonance with your goal. Gold has long been associated with prosperity, as has silver, for obvious reasons. Certain crystals, stones, and herbs have been attributed with such powers, throughout numerous cultures. By focusing your intent (your magical goal) while gazing or (preferably) touching the physical object to be charged, you are “programming” the object with your desire. It can be this simple, if you are skilled at concentration and channeling energy, or it can be as elaborate as any ritual that you can come up with. Just remember that the more elements that you include you run a greater risk of becoming distracted. It is usually best to keep things simple. magically speaking less is more.
Another important thing to know is that every action performed in a ritual setting becomes a part of the ritual. The act of etching the symbol on the candle, the choosing of the object, burning of certain herbs, conscious breathing, chanting, visualization, etc. When writing your spell it is important to ask yourself how each action lends itself to the overall ritual and if it doesn’t you may want to consider omitting it.
Once you have chosen your goal, your symbol(s), and your ritual, it is then time to set it all in motion. At this point you should already be familiar with basic energy techniques, having practiced grounding and basic meditation until you have achieved a certain level of proficiency. Spellwork can be effective without these basic skills, but usually only sporadically so. You would be wise to familiarize yourself with these basic precepts before continuing onward so as to increase your control of the power, and your chances of success.
Ground and center. Allow yourself to open-up to the Divine force all around you. Breathe it in. Holding your symbol (or a candle with your symbol etched on it, etc.) begin to breathe into the object, feeling the force of spirit moving into it along with your intent. Take some time to really feel this, as your feeling is the most important aspect of the spell. Feeling is the magical conduit for the power to flow through. Make sure yours is clear.
At this point you may wish to chant, or sing, burn incense, light a candle, draw a picture, perform a dance or yoga posture, or read an affirmation or poem that pertains to your magical desire, anything that will increase your feeling connection to the Divine, but only if it clearly lends itself to your goal. Trust your intuition in this matter.
During the ritual your aim will be to concentrate on your goal as a reality that has already occurred, while you are channeling energy into your symbol. Feel as if the symbol is merging with you, bringing with it the magical goal. Open up to it and allow it to interact with you. You may find that certain other feelings and images arise within your psyche, much like a meditation. If these feel appropriate to your goal, then simply allow them to dance and play within you. If they feel more like distractions then gently bring your attention back to your symbol, keeping your thoughts on your goal. For this reason other tools such as chanting are sometimes used in order to force the conscious mind to stay focused, but this is a matter of personal preference.
When you have finished, end your ritual in the normal way, whether this is a formal closing of your ritual circle, or simply saying a prayer of thanks and walking away.
You should feel free to allow yourself permission to use whatever symbols you feel drawn to. There is no harm in experimenting with different symbols in spellwork as long as your intent is pure. If you are not seeking to manipulate someone’s free-will, or attempting to bolster your own ego, then only knowledge will be gained from such experimentation. With your heart as your guide, tempered by your logic, you can find your own way along this magical path. The only tool you need is yourself.