Evoking with Computers

As soon as the effect of a metaphor consists in describing things or events in terms of life and movement, we are on the road to personification. To represent the incorporeal and the inanimate as a person is the soul of all myth-making and nearly all poetry. Strictly speaking, however, the process does not follow the course just indicated. There is no question of first conceiving something as lifeless and bodiless and then expressing it as something that has body, parts and passions. No; the thing perceived is conceived as having life and movement in the first place, and such is the primary expression of it, which is no afterthought.
—J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture

The practice of magical evocation typically involves calling forth an occult entity such as an angel, dæmon, fairy, ghost, or other spirit in order to learn from it or charge it with some task, propitiate it, &c. Such entities may be received or constructed (e.g., servitors). Various materials may be employed in an evocation, e.g., oblations may be offered to attract the entity; or the entity’s sigil might be inscribed on a sheet of parchment or metal disc featured in the ritual of summoning; or smoke or a mirror, crystal, or other show-stone may convey the entity’s physical appearance. In addition to any requisite materials, various trance-inducing prayers and incantations, gestures, &c., assist the magician in attaining to a state of mind suitable for bearing witness to the subtle visages and other signs by which occult entities make their presence known.

Doctor Faustus
Faustus evoking Mephistopheles (from Doctor Faustus) [3PC]

In the introduction, I mentioned that some people see magic as a way of working with the unconscious mind, which many situate as the world within the magician. The trick to evocation is seeing the world without the magician, both in the sense of what is external to her, and in the sense of what exists independently of her: what is alien, other. Throughout history, people of every culture have believed in various kinds of spiritual or occult entities. Modern psychology has tended to frame such things as, well, psychological: hallucinations, figments of the imagination, projections of the unconscious mind, &c.

Whatever their true nature may be (if anything even has a “true nature”), it is obvious that occult entities are occult because they obtain differently from how rocks, flowers, cats, ice cream, and football exist. And yet we know them by their physical characteristics: how they appear, sound, or feel; what they say and do. That famous grimoire, the Lesser Key of Solomon, lists 72 demons and gives each one’s name and rank, powers, the quantity of legions of demons they command, and description of its physical appearance—a most curious ontology (and also ecology)! Of course, occultism is rife with strange ontological assumptions: occultists talk of “opening portals,” “doorways,” or “gates” to “other dimensions,” “planes,” or “realms.” They talk of “energy” in ways that baffle physicists, &c. Are such things actual or metaphorical, real or imagined? And how much is the real imagined, and the imagined real?

Whether or not occult entities verily exist as autonomous beings in the world, independent of the sorcerer’s mind, many people have had the experience that they do, and the practice of magical evocation usually involves treating them as such either willfully (“fake it till you make it”), or because that is just how they present. Either way they seem to adhere to the golden rule of sorcery by evocation:

If at first you don’t succeed, feed it more blood.

The Ghost in the Machine

[O]ur environment, and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components—all of this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves.
—Philip K. Dick, “The Android and the Human”

There are basically two ways of relating computers to magical evocation. The first involves making computational media to mediate: to become that through which occult entities may see or be seen, hear or be heard, feel or be felt, or otherwise act or be interacted with; or which augment our abilities to sense and communicate with such entities. There is some precedent for this in the Tesla spirit radio, electronic voice phenomena, &c. The techniques of previous lessons in technomantic divination and enchantment may be applied to evocation, e.g., a conductive sigil representing the entity may trigger some event when connected to a computer. Digital or electronic effigies, fetishes, &c. may be programmed not just to act but to react and interact, responding to diverse events or communicating across various channels, including the internet. Technomancy does not deny the phantasmal or dæmonic; it houses it within the Body Electric, wherein it becomes a moving image differentiated from the stillness of the traditional icon or idol by the changes it undergoes in the physical space, which telegraph the numinous character of whom it embodies.

Imagine demons of the Ars Goetia as digital pets

The second way begins by framing the computer’s inputs and outputs as sensations and actions, and proceeds to recognize computers as things having their own being, and to speculate about their inner lives. Although usually made by humans for humans, computers belong to a different phylum than we, and they have their own ways. Not just computers in general, but each individual instance of a computer. Every computer exists and relates to its world in ways that not only transcend whatever you or I think a computer is and however we relate to it, but in ways that are impossible for us to comprehend or relate to. Indeed, the intersection of human and computer is but a sliver of all the computer’s ways of being and relating.

Recommended Reading

If you are new to magical evocation, here are a few resources to help you get started.

  • “Chaos Servitors” in Hine’s Condensed Chaos (New Falcon version), and his chapter on “Evocation” in Part 2 of Prime Chaos. Hine’s Aspects of Evocation is available for free on his website, and his Chaos Servitors booklet (different from the aforementioned section of the same name in Condensed Chaos) is supposed to be made available in the future.
  • Philip H. Farber’s Meta-Magick and Brain Magick contain several evocation exercises anyone can do, and which I have found to be especially agreeable to technomantic design.
  • “Spirits of Nature,” in Jan Fries’s Visual Magick
  • “The Conjuration of Vassago,” in Paul Huson’s Mastering Witchcraft presents a traditional, goetic-style evocation having a witchy æsthetic substituted for the usual Judeo-Christian elements.
  • Franz Bardon’s The Practice of Magical Evocation
  • Uncle Ramsey’s Little Book of Demons: The Positive Advantages of the Personification of Life’s Problems, and How to see Fairies
  • Matt Cardin’s A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius is about knowledge and conversation with one’s own genius, dæmon, or muse, and may appeal especially to anyone who tends to believe such things are aspects, but not merely figments, of the unconscious mind.
  • Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld is not an instructional text but an excellent survey of occult entities across various times and places.
  • Necromancy is a kind of evocation, and Daniel Ogden’s Greek and Roman Necromancy shows us how it was done in the good ol’ days.

Apropos of the computer as a medium for spirit communication, I recommend Siegfried Zielinski’s Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means, and John Durham Peters’ Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication. Apropos of the hidden lives of computers, see Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology: Or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything, and Timothy Morton’s Being Ecological.