In early 2021, I accepted a magical art commission.
There is a ritual that many modern magicians perform known as the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, wherein they define a space that is both of this reality and outside of it. A space where Magic is easier to perform. Perhaps a space where the magician’s imperfections are carved away, little by little, every time they enter it.
A major part of this ritual involves visualizing four angels: RAPHAEL before you, GABRIEL behind you, MICHAEL on your right hand, and AURIEL on your left. The client wanted help doing this, and felt that they would find it easier if they were given the shape of dragons.
I was given a page of the text of the version of the rite they were working from. (There are a lot of different versions floating around; the original was cobbled together from diverse sources in the late 1800s by members of the Order of the Golden Dawn (no relation to the modern Greek neo-Nazi party), and ever since their secrets were made public, the variants have bloomed – both small tweaks within the same religious framework, and big tweaks like swapping out Arch-Angels with Hebrew names for members of pretty much any pantheon you might prefer.) This particular one was from the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn.
Beyond that, the only direction I was given was “flat colors rather than full shading” and “needs to fit on a letter-size page”. This could have been enough to start with. But I wanted more. So I broke out my copy of Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Reference Tables, dug through Israel Regardie’s The Middle Pillar, flipped through Damien Echols’ High Magick, pondered a few versions found online, and a half dozen other books. And I started taking notes, writing down ideas, and making sketches. In a little sketchbook with dragons embossed on its leather cover that my in-laws had given me this past Christmas – it felt like a book for a Project, and this was obviously the right one.
I pretty quickly settled on the idea of building each Archangel Dragon upon the skeleton of their sigil. I worked them out myself with the Golden Dawn’s Rose Cross sigil method. It took me a little longer to read the OSOGD’s version of the rite and pick up the repeated mention of colors “flashing” on the angel’s robes; this word is used in other places in Golden Dawn instruction to refer to very intensely-contrasting color pairings that tend to clash and vibrate in your eyes.
I set up an Illustrator file. With all those sigils. And a couple more, because the variant of the LBRP/LIRP I like the most adds in an additional angel above and below you. I hadn’t decided if I was going to do them yet but I figured I’d leave the option open.
I started doing the Ritual of the Pentagram regularly. The Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram in the morning, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram in the evening, as directed by my copy of the Golden Dawn material, rather than doing the LBRP twice daily as almost everyone tends to tell you to do it now. Some of those ideas on how to approach this project were sitting there in my mind as I woke up, ready to be written down in the dream journal I’ve kept by my bed for a few years now. If I’m going to make images designed to be used as magical tools, I feel it is part of my job to do my best to make them potent. And part of that involves inviting the subject into my life, maybe to pose for my third eye, or maybe to just spend a little time sitting behind me while I work and casually dropping ideas into my head.
While I was still sorting out my ideas for this, I found myself sitting at a picnic table near a highway overpass on a sunny January afternoon in the local park (it’s much more pleasant than you think that sounds), listening to an invocation of Thoth and revamping the image on the front page of my website. Which had remained unchanged since I set it up in 2011. Ten years later, I seem to have moved from a burning sword to a glowing caduceus. Surely it’s just a coincidence that Raphael carries one of those. Right? Surely it’s just a coincidence that a little later, I was reading one of my magic reference books and had an urge to knock out a drawing of Anubis – or more precisely, Hermanubis, a Greco-Kemetic hybrid who focuses on the places where Anubis’s underworld responsibilities overlap with Hermes’ role as the nice man who gently informs you that you’re dead and leads you to the afterlife. He carries a caduceus too. I impulsively tried an old trick of mine with him: creating an eye-twisting background by drawing a large circle stroked with a very thick dotted line (like 800-1000pt), and was immensely satisfied with how it made him leap off the screen, surrounded by a shimmering halo.
And at that point, I had everything I needed to start working on Raphael.
And lo, after a few hours spread out over a week, there he was. Offering his hand, excited to perform his job of carrying you divine knowledge.
I moved on to Gabriel. Surely it was a coincidence that I decided to take a screenshot of the whole project immediately before discovering a bug where putting a sublayer inside a third-party plugin effect would cause Illustrator to irrecoverably corrupt the entire file. And that I decided to open the file back up within seconds of closing it instead of discovering this when I came back the next day. That made recreating the work I’d done that day on top of yesterday’s Time Machine backup much less frustrating. I reported this bug, of course.
Surely it was a coincidence that I was blocked on her for a while, then invoked her on Monday – the day of the Moon, which she’s associated with – and finished her off on a creative burst.
Over the next few months, I worked on the other two.
Michael came in pretty strong. He was cool with this draconification thing, but he was pretty insistent that he already had a fursona and it was a LION. So he ended up with a certain amount of “flaming lion” going on in his design.
And finally, Auriel. Or Oriel. Or Uriel. Everyone’s got a different choice on which vowels to add to the consonants-only names that magicians are plucking from ancient Hebrew texts. He took a while. He’s subtle.
Then I let them all sit for a couple of months. But now it seems to finally be time to upload all of these and share them with the internet. I might still do Metatron and Sandalphon. And maybe a few more. We will see.
Tools used: Adobe Illustrator, various Astute Graphics plugins, mostly Stylism and Widthscribe.
Feel free to print these images out for your own personal ritual use. You can also get them professionally printed as prints, shirts, stickers, phone cases, posters, scarves, pillows, and other stuff over on Redbubble.
You can also see a bit more commentary on each individual archangel-dragon image by checking out the “archangel” tag on this blog.