The Symbols that make up the Sigil Arcanum
The foundation of all magic relies on the four corners of the Earth: South, West, East, and North. To each of these directions is attributed an element, one quarter of the whole picture. These elements are Fire, Water, Air, and Earth respectively.
These are indeed the planets in the night sky, but one might be confused to see the Sun and the Moon in a list of planets. The word “planet” means wanderer, and refers to the peculiar motion of these stars in the night sky; the move around and double back on themselves, unlike the other stars which remain steady and constant. Despite their mischievous maneuvering, the planets also follow cycles, though theirs are more complex, and perhaps more meaningful to us. They are the closest things to us in the Universe, and as such, they are our world.
In Order: The Moon, Mercury, Venus, The Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Twelve Zodiac Signs
These are the constellations which our planets pass through along their journey. The zodiac spells a story which occurs throughout the year, as the seasons change and the world changes with it. The story remains the same, and it is a universal tale of drama, lust, fear, and victory (among many other things). The signs each represent an aspect of this story, a stop along the way. They are organized into four columns of three, each triplet with its own element.
The First Column (Air): Aquarius, Gemini, Libra
The Second Column (Water): Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio
The Third Column (Fire): Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
The Fourth Column (Earth): Taurus, Virgo, and finally Capricorn.
Alchemical Elements and symbols
There are three principle elements in alchemy, reflected in the first few majors and echoed along the way. They are Merucry, Salt, and Sulfur. Mercury of course is similar to the planet Mercury, though the symbol itself stands for much more than just that. In fact, all seven planets correspond to various metals. Mercury is quicksilver, the actual element Mercury (Hg), but it is also the planet in the sky, as well as the Roman god (and his Greek equivalent Hermes, or Egyptian equivalent Thoth). But each other planet also has a metal associated with it (and of course, a god or goddess).
Salt and Sulfur are another story altogether, which is why we must see Mercury in their context as the metal quicksilver and not as the planet itself (or the sphere thereof). Salt is indicated as a circle with a horizontal line through the center. Sulfur is an upright triangle (fire) with a cross underneath. In order: Mercury, Salt, Sulfur and the Circled Square. The final symbol is an abbreviation for the process of alchemy itself, Squaring the Circle or the Magnum Opus. It is represented by a circle in a square in a triangle in a circle, and appears three times in the deck: 0, XIV, and XXI.
A Brief Essay on Sigils
“Sigil” is a funny word, but it’s a good way of describing a concept that we use every day. A Sigil is like a word in a language, composed of symbols, and holding its own meaning all together. A Sigil could be a star, a letter, a figure, or anything else that one might be inclined to draw. The key to a Sigil is that its meaning is comprised of the meanings of all the symbols used to create it. It’s like a composite picture, though it may be a picture of a thousand symbols, or only one or two symbols.
We use sigils every day because we participate in a society with branding and logos, a society where we are expected to read written language (generally), where we have religions, or spirituality, or where we are mathematicians, astrophysicists, or nurses. We see symbols every day, and our minds deconstruct them to tell us in a pinch what they mean. The Caduceus, a famous symbol of the Greek god Hermes (and his Roman counterpart Mercury), is a wonderful example of a sigil that almost everyone could easily recognize. It is depicted as a scepter or staff, with two serpents intertwining, their heads reaching toward the top of the staff where, usually, sprout two wings. This sigil is used by Hospitals and displayed on ambulances, and most people instantly associate it with the idea of the “medical.”
The Caduceus itself represents the concept of Mercury, the eighth sphere Hod in the Sepher Sephiroth (the Tree of Life). Mercury governs exchange, money, ideas, knowledge, and magic. Magic is the root of disciplines like modern chemistry and medicine, and as such it seems quite fitting for the Medical industry to use the motif of Mercury all around; not just the logo of one organization or hospital, but an easily recognizable idea, a sigil. But the use of the Caduceus in the Medical field is actually a mistake. It has become confused with the Rod of Asclepius, a staff with one snake coiled around it. The god who this rod belonged to, Asclepius, is a god of healing, and medicine. This would seem to be in even more direct relation to the medical field.
The base of this idea, the rod and the serpent—and in the case of the Caduceus, the wings—are symbols which represent respectively a tool, a cure or treatment, and swiftness or transit. These ideas certainly can be used to describe medicine, even if the Caduceus is a mistakenly used symbol. But when we look at the symbol on the side of the Hospital, or on the World Health Organization’s website, we don’t actively break it down to these traits, because over time these sigils have likely become ingrained in the collective consciousness of Humanity, like how a brand name like Band-Aid loses its meaning when people start to associate that name with the Form—to borrow a Platonic term—of the product itself (an adhesive bandage for instance). This is why the image of the Caduceus is a good example of a sigil, it’s comprised of symbols each carrying their own meaning, the sum of these meanings is the sigil’s unique meaning, and it isn’t limited to one particular interpretation.
Sigils, like letters or hieroglyphs, come in a variety of styles, because there are a million different ways to draw the letter A, or to draw a falcon-headed god, as long as at the root it still represents the same idea. A rod, two snakes, and a pair of wings at the top, and you can draw that however pleases you.
In Ceremonial Magic, sigils are used as a technology by which one interacts with certain spiritual ideas. A Magician may draw a sigil on a disk of beeswax, filled with stars and crosses and names, each representing their own unique ideas, each coming together to form one idea, one sigil. They may draw a medallion or Lamen, or they may carve them into wood. Sigils are a foundation upon which the language of complexity is written. Instead of writing out all of your intentions in plain English (or Latin, Spanish, Cantonese, or even Esperanto), you can draw a diagram of your intention, something which encapsulates all of that meaning into one image. This can be memorized, or forgotten entirely, it could mean something only to you, or it could be easily decipherable. There are no real boundaries when it comes to sigils, and there are already plenty of formulae for teaching you how to make them.
Connecting the dots between Planetary Squares to form symbols out of words and numbers, or drawing complex mandalas, drawing inspiration from alchemy or the zodiac, or even just stick figures which visually represent the ideas. There are limitless possibilities, and there is an endless book of sigils waiting for its pages to be filled. The language of sigils is one which we already know, it is written language plain and simple, but not this language or that, not this alphabet or this other, but all of them, and none of them. It is the idea of writing, and drawing, of taking abstract form and molding it with your hands into a concrete thing—a thing which can be shared, or which can remain occulted.