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Invocation vs. Evocation

April 25, 2018

Invocation vs. Evocation

(originally published in the Ritualcravt zine, issue 1)

Understanding magical terminology can often digress into an evening of searching through dictionaries, occult references, and dare I say: Google. Two terms are the frequent culprits of confusion: invocation and evocation, and they appear in many books on occult philosophy and ritual practice. Both practitioners of witchcraft and ritual magick should be aware of their dissimilarities and usage, as each involves different approaches, yielding different results.

Invocation can be defined as summoning any deity, spirit, ancestor, planetary energy, elemental or entity with the intention of communicating with, petitioning for manifestation or offering sacrifice. Magical practitioners may also use invocation to connect themselves with a deity as a form of worship and initiation into their mysteries. Some examples of invocation are:

  1. Ritual invocation to a deity in order to bring them into your life
  2. Petitioning to an angel for success, prosperity, protection etc.
  3. Offering sacrifices of gratitude to a deity
  4. Communicating with spirit guides and ancestors

Typically, invocation incorporates a recited passage that calls the spirit to the magician or witch. This can be a prayer, hymn, incantation, poem or self-written invocation. I enjoy writing my own invocations, but I am partial to the poems of Baudelaire, Shelley and Blake. Poetry can be a very personal and beautiful method of inviting spirits into your life. Invocation can take many forms, from ecstatic dance rituals to silent meditation. Some find that certain substances aid them in ritual. Wine, entheogens and recreational drugs are found in some invocations.

Overall, invocation creates a working relationship between the practitioner and the spirit that is often marked by reciprocal benefits. The spirit is invited and welcomed into the life, home and heart of the practitioner.

Evocation is, however, dissimilar in that the practitioner, or operant, is conjuring a spirit or entity for a specific task, information, or some practical application aimed at manifestation in the physical world. After the operation, the practitioner dismisses or banishes the spirit to leave the room or space of evocation and complete the task. The operant is not offering supplication or service to the entity, and the goal is for the entity to grant the request of the operant. After a successful operation, the magician may choose to supply an offering to the spirit, as this is always good courtesy. Crucial to evocation is the barrier created by the operant between the spirit being evoked and the operant. This is an astral barrier such as the one produced by the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, or by calling in the four directions. The circle gains power when it is drawn on the ground in the physical realm as well as in the astral. Ceremonial magicians are known for their elaborate circular constructions, but a simple circle cast on the ground with an iron nail, wand, finger, dagger, or crystal point can be just as effective. After the ritual has been conducted, an evocation includes a dismissal to the spirit to fulfill their charge and a clearing of the astral space.

The Goetia, or Lesser Key of Solomon is an excellent example of such evocation. It consists of explicit instructions for conjuring the 72 “demons” of Solomon in order to aid the operant in finding lost treasure, raising storms and aiding in legal matters. Each spirit has a fixed set of skills in which they perform when successfully evoked. These spirits can be a very effective way to manifest change in the material world, but unlike deities, familiars and spirit guides, they are not sentient nor instinctual in their abilities. The operant must be very clear and firm when stating their requests. In contrast to invocation, evocation, especially of the Goetic variety, should always be performed sober, with a centered mind. With this form of evocation, one is encountering spirits of a “wild-card” nature. I also don’t recommend utilizing Goetic entities as spirit guides.  

Evocation can also be used when contacting familiars or ancestors for the first time. It’s good to know and trust spirit guides. You should test them to learn their true nature before allowing them into your life. Over time, spirits may become familiars or spirit guides, but this is after a mutual relationship has been established.

At first glance, invocation and evocation may seem like interchangeable terms, but they are in fact very different. Both terms involve communicating with spirits, but the preparation and execution of the operation diverges. By understanding magical terminology, both witches and magicians gain insight into the tradition of magical practice and strengthen their own personal power.

Author: Samuel McCabe is a visual artist, educator, operative magician and Tarot reader at Ritualcravt. He has ten years experience with ceremonial magick in group and solitary settings. He is currently researching the origins of magick through grimoires, mythology and anthropology. Samuel teaches using a project-based approach that inspires creativity and independence in his students. You can follow and connect more with Samuel via Instagram @thepeacockgrimoire

©2018 by Samuel McCabe. All rights reserved.